The FRDC finds business confidence in the seafood sector remains positive, although there is more it can do to engage stakeholders
By Annabel Boyer
The FRDC’s latest survey of stakeholders engaged in the commercial supply of seafood has found businesses, governments and researchers involved in this aspect of fisheries remain “cautiously optimistic” about the future, despite the challenges of the past year.
The business sentiment survey seeks feedback on the level of commercial confidence in the future of Australian fisheries and aquaculture. It also identifies how effective the FRDC is perceived to be in its investment of industry and government funds, and in communicating its activities.
While the FRDC’s stakeholders are diverse and include commercial fishing, aquaculture, Indigenous fishing and recreational fishing, this 2020 survey only targeted those involved in the seafood supply chain. Intuitive Solutions used online and telephone interviews to collect feedback from 347 participants across the country in November and December.
Photo: afael Ben-Ari /123rf
Supply chain stakeholders
Targeted stakeholders were grouped according to their role in the seafood supply and production chain as:
■ active seafood businesses, working in aquaculture or commercial fishing;
■ supply chain businesses, working as exporters, processors, retailers or wholesalers; and
■ non-business resource management stakeholders, working in government, research or Indigenous organisations.
Director of intuitive solutions Michael Sparks says the 2020 stakeholder survey was undertaken at an unusual time, with a confluence of different factors creating a unique operating environment for seafood businesses.
“There was, at the start of 2020, confidence in both domestic and export markets,” he says. “However, the social, operating and trading environments have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, with restrictions of movement creating challenges for seafood businesses and creating uncertainty about ‘business-as-usual’ practices.”
The continuing uncertainty and ongoing impacts of COVID-19 have also been compounded by recent export challenges into Chinese markets.
The survey shows the impact of COVID-19 has been a mixed one. Unsurprisingly, the feedback indicates COVID-19 has impacted the profitability of a large proportion of active businesses, with 58 per cent reporting a decline or significant decline in profitability. In the supply chain, 47 per cent of businesses reported a decline or significant decline.
A smaller number of seafood businesses reported performing as usual and, in some cases, were in a stronger position than they were prior to the pandemic. For more details on the impacts of COVID-19 across the seafood sector see pages 18–22.
Despite the challenges of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, the feedback indicates there is a cautious optimism about the future of the fishing and aquaculture industries. “Of the stakeholders we surveyed, more were positive than negative about the future of fishing and aquaculture in Australia,” Michael Sparks says.
The nett sentiment – the percentage positive sentiment minus the percentage negative sentiment – was +34 for active seafood businesses and +31 for supply chain businesses. Confidence among non-business stakeholders, which includes fisheries managers, the researcher community and consultancy service providers, was significantly higher, at +66. This reflects confidence in the health and management of Australia’s fishery resources.
A new R&D Plan
A new and refreshed FRDC Research and Development (R&D) Plan was launched in mid-2020 and the survey provided an opportunity to assess stakeholder awareness of the plan.
The plan has five target R&D outcomes, with enabling strategies designed to build capability and provide foundational support. The feedback suggests that awareness of, and familiarity with, the new R&D Plan is modest.
Across the three key stakeholder cohorts, 40 per cent of active businesses, 21 per cent of supply chain businesses and 56 per cent of non-business stakeholders indicated they were at least somewhat familiar with the plan. This indicates that further effort is needed to engage stakeholders and connect them with the R&D outcomes underpinning the plan.
Michael Sparks notes that for active seafood businesses and supply chain businesses, the R&D outcome of ‘fair and secure access to aquatic resources’ is identified as likely to have the most impact on their business operations. “While other outcomes remain important, this was consistently identified as the one that will deliver the most direct impact to businesses,” he says. Non-business stakeholders identified ‘growth for enduring prosperity’ as the most urgent R&D outcome in the new plan.
For more information on the target R&D outcomes, view the plan on the FRDC’s website.
Getting the message out
Stakeholders reported a high level of trust and confidence in the information about research provided by the FRDC.
When asked ‘How important is it for the Australian fishing industry to have an organisation like the FRDC?’, the average score from respondents was 8.5 out of 10, in line with the result of a similar survey in 2015; in 2011 the score was 7.8.
When asked how satisfied they were that the FRDC was investing government and industry funds wisely for the benefit of industry – on a scale of 1 to 10 – the score from active businesses was 6, with 6.1 from supply chain businesses and 7.1 from non-business stakeholders.
A major challenge for the organisation remains ensuring stakeholders are made aware of the huge diversity of research investments made by the FRDC.
The results indicate stakeholders are using at least one of the FRDC’s channels (social media, e-newsletter, website or FISH magazine) to access information. It was evident from the feedback that use of the FRDC’s social media channels was well below that of the other channels.
FISH magazine received the highest score as a communication channel, referenced by 93 per cent of active seafood businesses, 94 per cent of supply chain businesses and 93 per cent of non-business respondents. More than 50 per cent of seafood producers and suppliers and 88 per cent of non-business stakeholders indicated they learned something new or made changes to their operations as a result of the magazine’s content.
While stakeholders reported a strong readership of, and satisfaction with, FISH magazine, the challenge continues to be in satisfying the wide range of needs and interests of stakeholders coming from the many and various sectors and interest areas.
“Stories which illustrate on-the-ground, lived experiences of fishers, researchers and other businesses appear to be an important ingredient for attracting readership,” Michael Sparks notes. Stakeholder suggestions for magazine content include more articles featuring diverse viewpoints, including those critical of current practices, opportunities to connect with investors, features on sustained success in the industry, industry and environmental non-government partnerships and the FRDC services.
The survey also sought user experiences and needs around the FRDC website to inform and assist with the current redevelopment of the site into a more user-centred version.
The full report from the 2020 FRDC stakeholder survey will be available soon on the FRDC website.