The NSW coastal aquaculture industry needs sound information about its economic and social contributions to coastal communities for its continued access to coastal resources to address prevalent negative perceptions. Competing coastal uses such as marine protected areas for conservation purposes and havens for recreational fishing may compromise the viability of aquaculture. For example, in recent submissions to government about commercial shellfish aquaculture leases in Jervis Bay, one submission claimed: “The contribution to the local and regional economy is estimated to be no more than $2 million. Is it worth risking a $700 million tourism industry for this small return?” Responses to this submission relied on evidence from locations outside NSW because currently there is no information available about contributions aquaculture makes to NSW regional communities beyond the value of farm gate sales. It is possible that aquaculture may enhance tourism, as it does in other regions in Australia and overseas, rather than detract from it, but without evidence it is difficult to make the case.
The NSW coastal aquaculture industry and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) staff working on aquaculture have identified a need for a social and economic evaluation of the contributions the industry makes to regional communities. The new Marine Estate resource allocation process is based on assessments of social, economic and ecological values, threats and risks, highlighting absolute necessity of social and economic evaluations. Current trends for social responsibility reporting or certification for marketing also require social assessments. Finally, part of the need here is to improve the industry’s social license to operate. This project will provide baseline information that industry can then use to inform their community engagement strategies. DPI Aquaculture Manager Ian Lyall discovered that this kind of evaluation was planned for FRDC 2014/301 (on wild catch fisheries) and contacted the PI Kate Barclay to see if the same could be done for aquaculture, resulting in this proposal. DPI would benefit from this information for strategic planning for future development of coastal aquaculture.