Let’s Talk Fish: Assisting industry to understand and inform conversations about the sustainability of wild-catch fishing

Project Number:



Charles Sturt University (CSU) Bathurst

Principal Investigator:

Allan Curtis

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:





As already noted (see Background), substantive social research and industry and natural resource management experience has shown that public and stakeholder acceptance is very important for the success of primary industries like the wild-catch sector of the commercial fishing industry. Unproductive debates about sustainable development and ecosystem protection have increased, and projects, programs, or policies lacking greater social acceptability are unlikely to be implemented (Shindler et al 2004). Strong future economic, environmental and social performance of wild catch fisheries depends on productive three-way communications between the fishing industry, their stakeholders, and the wider public (see Figure 2). In order to achieve those conversations, however, we need greater understanding of what drives social acceptability and how it influences decision-making. This project was developed with reference to the research themes and priorities identified by the: • National Fishing and Aquaculture RD&E Strategy 2010 (pp 28-30) • FRDC RD&E Plan 2012-15 (pp 27, 28, 30; 32-33; 34-35; 37-38) • Social Sciences Research Coordination Program Plan 2009-2012 (p.5) The Strategy and Plans consistently identify the need for research that helps build mutual benefits and support between the fishing industry and its (national, regional, stakeholder) communities and that has explicit strategies for facilitating the adoption of research findings, thereby building industry capacity in the process. Our research will meet that need by: • Generating knowledge about the drivers of the wild-catch sector’s social acceptability and to what extent and how social acceptability influences resource access decision making processes; • Enhancing value of current and future communications approaches through provision of key messages and approaches that extend one-way provision of information to ways to build public trust; and • Possibly improving existing social acceptability benchmarks for the wild-catch sector.


1. Obtain comprehensive and reliable knowledge about the basis for people’s (decision-makers, interest groups, general public) attitudes and behaviours towards the sustainability of wild catch fishing (and other primary) industries and the extent to which social acceptability influences resource access decisions;

2. Use interactive processes to share that information with the project’s primary audience (government decision makers (fisheries managers), fishing industry leaders, and the fisheries research/extension community) and help build industry capacity to: identify and understand the values, beliefs, attitudes and actions of the general public and other stakeholders; and select topics and identify strategies that will enable more effective engagement with those audiences.

3. Review current benchmarks of the social acceptance of wild-catch commercial fishing with a view to revising existing and/or identifying new indicators for widespread use in future time series comparisons.

Final report - 2012-301-DLD - Let's Talk Fish: Assisting industry to understand and inform conversations about the sustainability of wild-catch fishing

Final Report
Author(s):Professor Allan Curtis, Dr Nicki Mazur, Mr Andy Bodsworth
Date Published:March 2014

Principal Investogator: Allan Curtis

Key Words: Social acceptability, wild-catch commercial fishing, sustainability, resource access decisions, community engagement, stakeholder engagement.

Summary: Firstly, the Let’s Talk Fish Project generated new knowledge about the industry’s current level of social acceptability, as well as some of the key psychological factors that influence those judgements. The mail survey data showed that there is a high level of social acceptability for the Industry amongst the general public. However, survey data suggests that approval is conditional upon respondents thinking that the sector was being effectively regulated and that it could clearly demonstrate positive environmental stewardship.

The nature and degree of social acceptability was informed by certain key values, beliefs, personal norms, attitudes, levels of trust, and risk perceptions. Mail survey respondents consistently prioritised environmental protection over fishing industry livelihoods. Not surprisingly, strongly negative judgements were linked to respondents with stronger environmental values and beliefs about the need to reduce the industry’s environmental impacts and to do so in part through government regulations. More accepting attitudes towards the industry were linked to trust that the industry would work to sustain future fish stocks and protect marine animals from harm. However, most survey respondents had low trust in the industry and doubted its trustworthiness.

Secondly, the interview data confirmed that multiple interacting factors, not simply social acceptability judgements of the broader public, influence fisheries resource access decisions across time. Interest groups, decision makers and the fishing industry have all sought to understand how and to what extent ‘public opinion’ is aligned with their respective interests and then use that information to try and further their interests. In the case studies, influential people’s assessments of the size (and sometimes to a lesser degree the substance) of public opinion had some effect on resource access decision processes and outcomes. The case studies illustrated how lower levels of social acceptability can contribute to instances where particular fishing businesses and/or fisheries will have their access to fish stocks reduced.access to fish resources.