Research on the human dimensions of fisheries is integrating the social and economic aspects of the sector with environmental considerations
By Nicole Baxter
Photo: Damian Brierty, Melbourne Seafood Centre
Central to the success of Australia’s wild fishery and aquaculture sector are the people who harvest, regulate, manage, process, deliver, sell, buy and eat seafood, as well as the broader Australian community.
The Human Dimensions Research (HDR) subprogram helps to ensure the industry is thriving socially and economically.
HDR subprogram leader Emily Ogier, from the University of Tasmania, says research under the subprogram focuses on social and economic factors of the sector, as well as the people, markets, institutions and behaviours these affect.
“We line up the expertise [needed] to answer some of the trickier issues involving people, benefits and markets that are connected to the production and ecological aspects of the industry,” she says.
“We either co-invest and partner with another project to enhance the social or economic research skills within the project, or we initiate our own stand-alone projects.”
Some of the HDR subprogram’s clients are fisheries management agencies who may be looking at what management changes would support a fishery or aquaculture operation to better meet economic productivity and profitability goals.
“We might be involved to help understand how the mix of operators’ behaviours and management settings impact on productivity and on people themselves,” Emily Ogier says.
Ian Dutton, marine resources director at Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment values the insight the HDR subprogram provides.
He says research into the human dimensions of fisheries management has lagged behind investment in the biological and physical sciences for too long.
“The interdisciplinary work being done at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), supported by FRDC and industry, on the economic and social values of fisheries provides critical insight into wild fisheries and aquaculture supply chains,” he says.
“From fisher/processor/retailer understanding of stocks and their investment behaviours, to what factors influence seafood consumption decisions, to broader community acceptability of fisheries and aquaculture production practices, we need to better understand the attitudes and behaviours that drive fisheries as a social enterprise.”
Ian Dutton says those insights are essential to setting appropriate fisheries policy over the near and longer-term.
Human Dimensions Research subprogram leader.
One of the HDR subprogram’s recent projects has been to quantify, for the first time, the economic contribution of the seafood industry to the nation’s economy. The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Industry Contributions Study 2017-18 estimates this to be $5.3 billion.
The project report shows the sector generated 41,253 full-time jobs, and documents its importance in the economic resilience and diversity of regional coastal communities.
IMAS led the project, which lays the groundwork for ongoing monitoring of the sector’s economic performance and showcasing its contribution to the wider Australian community.
The project was undertaken as part of the FRDC’s RD&E National Priority 2: Improving the productivity and profitability of fishing and aquaculture. FRDC managing director Patrick Hone says understanding the economic and social values of fishing and aquaculture is going to be critical for both government and industry planning, given the sector has significant potential for growth over the next decade.
He says quality economic data is also vital to ensuring the fisheries and aquaculture sectors are fully recognised for their contribution to the $100 billion by 2030 target that the National Farmers Federation has proposed for primary production. In 2019, this total, including fisheries, was estimated at $60 billion.
Project researcher Julian Morison from BDO EconSearch says the project results provide a much-needed baseline dataset that will allow the seafood sector’s contribution to the national economy to be tracked over time.
The project has tailored a data framework and guidelines for fisheries, aquaculture and associated processing industries in Australia, establishing a cost-effective and consistent approach for future data collection.
The data gathered will also be useful for other types of economic analyses used in management decision-making, such as bio-economic modelling.
A summary of the report is available from the FRDC website.
Another HDR subprogram research project is being undertaken by the sector’s peak national body, Seafood Industry Australia (SIA). SIA chief executive officer Jane Lovell says the research project, called ‘Our Pledge’, was established to understand how to help build trust within the community about how the seafood industry operates.
Decreasing trust can lead to increased regulation, limited market access and disincentives to invest in infrastructure, leading to consequences for the industry that include reduced productivity, profitability and sustainability.
Through the project, Jane Lovell’s research shows the community’s main concerns centre on the sustainability of fish stocks, the impact of wild-catch fishing on non-target species, animal welfare, the safety of workers at sea, and the way the industry responds to community concerns.
“The community wants us to engage with them more frequently and develop a relationship of trust,” she says.
Research was also undertaken to understand the seafood industry’s concerns about its profile in the community, with a view to making a series of statements about the industry’s values under the banner of ‘Our Pledge’.
These statements seek to respond to community concerns and to acknowledge the industry’s responsibility for the future.
Jane Lovell says the sector’s concerns are aligned closely with those of the broader community.
After 12 workshops and input from 150 seafood industry stakeholders during 2019, ‘Our Pledge’ has received support from more than 95 per cent of those attending workshops.
To ensure ‘Our Pledge’ was up to date, SIA held further community consultations involving surveys and focus groups. Pleasingly, there was strong support for ‘Our Pledge’.
“Members of the community want to meet fishers and hear them tell their stories about what they do and how they do it,” Jane Lovell says.
Case studies of fishers will also demonstrate how fishers have listened to concerns raised and have changed in response to issues highlighted.
Jane Lovell says the sector needs to communicate with more than just the science when the community raises concerns about issues such as the sustainability of fish stocks, for example.
“When the supertrawler became an issue, people weren’t hearing our message that ‘there are plenty of fish in the sea’ because we were appealing to their heads,” Jane Lovell says.
“We weren’t connecting to their hearts in an authentic way, but the social science research we’ve done and are doing through the HDR subprogram is allowing us to do that.
Emily Ogier, 0438 697 081
Jane Lovell, 0419 554 047