Published: 22 June 2021 Updated: 26 July 2021

Managing fisheries for everyone

Fisheries management is about more than maintaining fish stocks and economic returns, as it has often been in the past. Fisheries management should take a holistic approach, considering the environmental and social implications of management decisions.

The oceans are a global resource and as such need to be managed to benefit the entire community, not just those directly involved in the fishing industry.

This document introduces the steps to include social objectives into fisheries management.

Why are social objectives important?

Recognising the needs of fishers, as well as the interests of consumers and the broader community is a vital part of ensuring responsible fishery management and a viable future for Australian fisheries.

Decisions made by management agencies and Government can impact on the social benefits people derive from fisheries. The social implications of fishing activities include creating jobs and income, the nutrition derived from eating the catch, and the cultural, spiritual, physical and mental health aspects of going fishing. There is also value in knowing that marine and aquatic environments are healthy and well managed.

Including social objectives in fisheries management

What are Social Objectives? In fisheries management, a social objective is a statement that describes desired outcomes related to the interaction of people involved in the fishery, either directly, such as the fishers and their families, or indirectly like the broader community purchasing the seafood. Often social objectives are related to improving human wellbeing, such as improving working conditions, infrastructure and support networks for fishers. The result of this is a happier, healthier industry and community.

Management of the social dimension of fisheries requires consideration of the needs and wellbeing of all connected to the fishing industry. These include fishers and fishing communities (commercial, charter and recreational fishers), Indigenous communities, and local and regional Australian communities.

Including social objectives in management decisions is not necessarily competing or conflicting with managing for healthy environments and economically viable industries. At times, managers may need to make choices as to which objectives will have priority, but often it is possible to balance social, environmental and economic goals. To date, however, the social performance of fisheries has been measured mainly through the use of income and employment figures. While useful, these figures tell an economic story, and neglect other important social aspects of fishing communities, such as community wellbeing and trust of the industry that contribute to a fishery's social license to operate.

With the support of the FRDC, a two-part Guide, Managing the social dimensions of fisheries management, has been produced to help fisheries managers incorporate the social aspect into their planning.

The Guide provides the tools to select social objectives for each specific fishery and to choose measurable indicators to evaluate how well the objectives are being met. This allows social performance to be assessed alongside ecological and economic objectives and complements existing efforts towards Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) of Australian fisheries.

What are the benefits of applying social objectives?

Including social objectives in the management of a fishery provides the fishery with tools to engage with the broader community, ultimately improving the profitability of the fishery. In addition, developing a universal set of social objectives that can be applied to all Australian fisheries improves transparency and allows consistent and accurate reporting of social effects of management activities, alongside ecological and economic ones.


Understanding of community attitudes and needs allows managers to identify common interests and foster relationships among stakeholders. This in turn creates positive perceptions that result in social, economic and political support for the industry. Improving these perceptions involves sincere and ongoing outreach and consideration of community needs and opinions. Using social objectives and indicators can both set and measure the results of these efforts and assist in improving them, resulting in greater trust and support within the community.

Researchers have been working with fisheries managers and members of the seafood industry to develop a range of social objectives and indicators that can be used for future decision making.

It is important to collaborate with fishers when selecting social objectives and indicators. These efforts are not just about identifying and measuring existing conditions, but also about ensuring continual improvement.


There are a number of factors that impact on the profitability of the fishing industry outside the basics of catch volume and price – supply and demand.

Communities that rely entirely on fishing may be vulnerable to shifting markets, which can threaten both economic stability and people's 'way-of-life'. Securing community support and the wellbeing of fishers involves balancing everyone's needs to achieve environmentally sound, profitable, and socially equitable fisheries management.

Effective communication with community stakeholders can also increase perception of the industry, resulting in greater economic support and ultimately increased profits.


The Australian community has in place a set of standards and expectations for how its members should behave and act - these extend to the fishing industry. The expectation is that the seafood industry will produce safe, top quality product, while ensuring the long term responsible management of the stocks and their environment, for people to enjoy well into the future.

Australia holds an important international role in its stewardship of one of the largest areas of ocean ecosystem in the world. It is imperative that as a nation we adopt systems that align our activities with world's best practice. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and Canada are all currently developing approaches and methods for integrating the social dimension into fisheries and ecosystem management. The application of social objectives and indicators helps to affirm Australia's standing as a global leader in fisheries management. Australian fisheries are not just adopting, but helping to define, global best practice.

The development of the Guide, together with other projects such as the National Guidelines to Develop Fisheries Harvest Strategy, allows social objectives and indicators to be incorporated into existing national reporting structures, such as the National Harvest Strategy Framework, and Status of Key Australian Fish Stock Reports.

How does this guide help?

The Guide takes fisheries managers through the steps of implementing social objectives, in an ESD context. It helps them identify, document, and manage social objectives, indicators and performance measures relevant to their fishery.

The Guide has been designed to be easy to use and initial users report being able to follow the steps described in The Guide without any further assistance. The Guide is divided into two parts; the first explains how social objectives fit into ESD, while the second part helps with the selection of appropriate objectives, indicators and performance measures for a fishery.

Not all objectives and indicators are appropriate to all fisheries. Because of this, the guidelines are designed to point fishery managers towards objectives and indicators that are most relevant to them, and those over which they can exercise control. The objectives have been selected so that they can be adopted without having to consult a social scientist. In addition, 'essential objectives' that are applicable and desirable in all circumstances have been identified. These should be considered and incorporated into fisheries management frameworks.

Once the relevant social objectives have been selected, The Guide presents a list of indicators and related performance measures, which can be used to assess if each objective has been reached. These indicators are presented along with a rating of their independence, complexity and cost. This is done by ranking them from 1 to 10 with 1 having the highest independence and a combination of the lowest cost measurement complexity. In some circumstances, indicators ranked as being more complex or expensive may be the most appropriate due to the level of independence required to achieve the objective. It is important to carefully examine each indicator and find a balance between what would be best for the fishery and what is achievable.

Flowchart of the social objectives implementation process

The following dot points and flow chart provide a step-by-step guide of how to select social objectives and indicators for a specific fishery.

1. Balancing ESD – risk and prioritisation

The first step situates social objectives in the context of ESD. This is done by:

1a) Determining the scope of the fishery – What is the fishery about?
Review all available information on the fishery, including all stakeholders, existing management arrangements, ESD status of the fishery, biological status of the fishery, relevant legislation and overarching policy objectives. For all stakeholder groups identify the mechanisms for engagement.

See page 11 of the Guide Part 1 - Find the Guide online

1b) Risk and prioritisation
Use this step to identify ecological, social and economic issues facing the industry and other stakeholders. Consider how managing for one issue may affect other issues. Carry out a risk analysis of these interactions then prioritise the issues and identify the strategic priorities for managing social objectives. Use these priorities to identify the high-level social, economic and ecological objectives to include in the fishery's management

See page 11 of the Guide Part 1.

2. Identify social objectives
Determine high-level social objectives relevant to the three communities – industry, indigenous and regional. Translate high-level objectives into operational objectives relevant to the fishery. Make operational objectives clear, measurable and directly linked to the high-level objectives.

For example, while a high-level objective may be 'Maintain or improve community perceptions and social license to operate', more specific and measurable operational objectives would include:

  • Facilitate and support the cohesion and connectedness of fishers with their regional communities through fisheries management (Objective 3.2)
  • Maximise community trust in fisheries (Objective 3.3), and
  • Ensure fisheries information is available in a timely manner (Objective 3.6)

See page 14 of the Guide Part 1.

3. Requirements, people and resources
Assess the practical requirements, specifically the human and financial resources required and the time involved. Also identify existing processes that could be used.

See page 21 of the Guide Part 1.

4. Selecting Social Indicators
Choose appropriate performance indicators for each objective. An overview of all the different indicators that can be used is provided to help with this, with descriptions of the method, cost, complexity and independence of these indicators for all three communities (industry, Indigenous and local/regional).

See page 23 of the Guide Part 1, as well as additional information on specific indicators in Part 2 of the Guide.

5. Data Collection Methods
This step is used to map out and resource the data collection processes required for the indicators chosen. This will include the adoption and adjustment of existing processes as well as the generation of new ones.

Baseline data for each indicator is collected and then built upon through further studies.

For details on data collection methods, refer to page 46 of the Guide Part 1. Information related to the data required for specific indicators can be found in Part 2 of the Guide.

6. Using social data in fisheries management
Implementation, Monitoring and Performance Review.

Use this step to plan how the information will be used, monitored and acted upon in fisheries management processes. Consider how the fishery will respond if, and when, they identify that they are not achieving their social objectives.

For details on implementation and performance review, refer to Page 39 of the Guide Pa rt 1, as well as further detail in the Guide Part 2.

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Lakes and Coorong: a social objective case study


Jonathan McPhail said another benefit of The Guide was the information provided on how to measure the proposed social objectives.

"The indicators that were chosen for the Lakes and Coorong Fishery are appropriate for the scale of the fishery, and are easily achievable," he said.

Proposed performance indicators, reference points ('triggers') and strategies for addressing the objectives are all clearly outlined in the FRDC Guide and in the process of being adopted. The measurement of many of the indicators can be done using a simple survey, or knowledge already held by fisheries managers. The methods that can be used are, in the main, low in cost and have the ability to use existing information sources and data-collection processes, something that those working on the draft Lakes and Coorong Fishery Management Plan found useful.

"We have excellent processes such as the periodic economic surveys already set up in South Australia to collect this information," said Mr McPhail. "Implementing and measuring these objectives is unlikely to create any significant extra work and the industry has given their support in collecting the data."

Some of the social issues that are on the agenda include determining the perceptions of fishery management held by fishers. Indigenous groups and local/regional communities can help identify critical social issues that need to be addressed. Though still in draft form, for the Lakes and Coorong Fishery, this work will help build and measure trust, ensuring the fishery maintains its social license to operate.

The experience of the Lakes and Coorong Fishery shows that adding the proposed social objectives to management plans is not a daunting task.

"The Guide supported us to determine the most appropriate social objectives for the scale of this fishery," Jonathan McPhail said. "It's good to know that we may have social objectives alongside existing environmental and economic objectives in our planning and management of the fishery."

"Until recently, we didn't know how to incorporate social objectives into the operation of the fishery. But with the Guide developed by the FRDC it was a really smooth process". – Jonathan McPhail, fishery manager.