Within the Blue Growth Strategy, aquaculture is perceived and quoted as a sector that has a high potential for sustainable employment and growth and that has to be developed. Despite a strong initial growth at the beginning of the Blue Revolution, European aquaculture, and in particular marine fish farming, began to stall and stagnate. The new drivers initiated by the Blue Growth Strategy seem to have great difficulty in reversing that trend and progressing towards the stated objectives in terms of production volumes, in the light of the production statistics over the last decade. Marine socio-ecosystems are complex systems, they demonstrate non-matching scales, surprises (non-linearities), interconnection with other systems, memory effects, choke points and so on. This complexity calls for more integrated assessment through integration of existing knowledge: integration of sciences (among disciplines), integration of sciences and society, integration of sciences and policy and integration of uses. Even though some integrated assessment frameworks were developed such as the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries, and its counterpart for aquaculture the Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture, in practice they never really reached the required level of integration. In particular, these approaches focused on the ecological carrying capacity and left aside the social and institutional dimensions, especially the governance issues of these socio-ecosystems.
While much effort has been put into technological innovations and the measure of their impact on farms, relatively little has been put into institutional innovations. But beyond technical and profitability issues, social acceptability is now considered as one of the main bottlenecks to aquaculture development. As already underlined, existing assessment frameworks are not able to capture that key dimension of aquaculture development. There is therefore a need to propose and develop such an assessment framework of Social Acceptability (SA) of aquaculture development. In addition to reviewing existing frameworks and experiences in other industries, taking into account the complexity of marine socio-ecosystems, the main drivers and bottlenecks to aquaculture development were identified to better understand the factors contributing to SA. The main bottlenecks are related to the way aquaculture development was thought out and implemented: forgetting the way of production and solely focusing on the volume to be produced; basing aquaculture development on scientific and technical expertise and imposing top-down projects developed “ex nihilo” without insights into local integration; implementing such projects based on a communication approach by solely providing information without embarking upon participatory processes and stakeholder engagement; misperceiving SA solely through the acceptability of the product and not the acceptability of the activity. All this leads to a series of adverse effects such as market disconnection, a vicious circle of unprofitability, lack of trust and confidence in aquaculture, and fuzzy developments, contributing to aggravating the factors of social unacceptability.
The MedAID project is an attempt to integrate all these dimensions to support sustainable marine aquaculture development in the Mediterranean. It proposes an integrated framework to rethink the development of marine aquaculture in Europe and beyond, through the SA dimension as an integrating dimension. An assessment framework for SA of aquaculture development was developed and implemented over several case studies in the Mediterranean through the proposal of a three-step approach experimentation. Participatory approaches are at the core of the assessment framework and introduction and recommendations to these approaches are produced too, with references to existing tools.
The implementation of the three-step approach to assess SA of aquaculture development underlined four main recommendations: 1) Support concertation, 2) Give importance to the adequacy between the territory and the project, 3) Value the benefits of the project and promote transparency and 4) Establish a framework that supports aquaculture development and compliance with the development process. These recommendations finally appear as an essential prerequisite for a more peaceful, more virtuous and acceptable development that will drive marine aquaculture back to sustainability. Maybe not a sufficient condition for sustainable aquaculture development but a necessary one.
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