Mediterranean marine fish aquaculture is facing a wide range of challenges that threaten its further development, competitiveness and sustainability. The sector has been affected by its low performance and the financial crisis, but also because fish producers operate within a complex regulatory, institutional and social framework. Understanding the social stumbling blocks that lead to the stagnation of sustainable aquaculture development in the Mediterranean Sea is an area of study that has been frequently overlooked.
Beyond the classic approaches of spin-offs or jobs, which more often provide material for communication or promotion of a sector rather than questioning its sustainability, the social dimensions of aquaculture development can also be understood in terms of its wider public dimension. A public dimension that also integrates ecological and economic dimensions. The remaining and pending question about aquaculture development is still the same as it was at the inception of modern marine aquaculture: sustainability and integration to reach this sustainability. Social acceptability as an understanding of the acceptability of aquaculture development within society, and not limited to its solely social dimension, allows us to integrate ecological, economic and social dimensions of aquaculture development to redirect this development onto a more sustainable path. It allows us to put governance at the core of sustainability and address the territorial dimension of aquaculture development by co-constructing a territory’s aquaculture vision before moving into site selection and carrying capacity. If it has to be compared to the traditional approach of aquaculture development based on site selection and carrying capacity, it would be best to take an integrated approach to the carrying capacity concept, an integrated carrying capacity encompassing the ecological carrying capacity, the economic carrying capacity and the social carrying capacity.
This novel analysis of institutional and social constraints, which constitute the main stumbling blocks to aquaculture development in Europe and particularly in the Mediterranean region, is based on experiments at regional and local levels through a series of workshops and case studies. The MedAID project team thus questioned the conditions for implementing such a novel approach to aquaculture development and issued a series of recommendations supported by two sets of guidelines at regional and local levels in order to support and foster the social acceptability of aquaculture development.
At regional level, the approach is based on the institutional dimension and acceptability of aquaculture in order to: i) support countries in producing strategic aquaculture development plans and including provisions to improve social acceptability; ii) the establishment and implementation of good governance mechanisms, iii) promoting the adoption of appropriate policy instruments and decision-making processes in order to enhance participatory approaches and open and broad dialogue with the industry, all aquaculture subsectors and local communities, as well as improving general public knowledge and perceptions of aquaculture.
The following general guideline framework outlines the main aspects of aquaculture governance for improving social acceptability:
At local level, while there are different contexts, there are common considerations. Despite the differences between the different case studies, a number of similarities are observed regarding the issues and causes of social unacceptability. Social acceptability is a decision-making process that leads to the acceptance or rejection of a proposal or decision. These processes feed back into social interactions that lead to responses and so on, resulting in convergent or divergent dynamics. Taking the decision-making framework into account is important in order to know whether it is based on an institutional context within a political or administrative procedure, or on a private initiative that links the action or proposal of a private entity to the positioning of one or more individuals, individually or collectively, in relation to this action or proposal. Social acceptability is also not a simple “Not In My Backyard” or dichotomic issue. For instance, the planning of aquaculture development is still mainly based on sectoral approaches. The issue that arises is addressing this development by avoiding taking into account solely the constraints of this or that sector, but by adapting development to the needs and opportunities of the territories which play host to it. This also concerns all the actors in the territory and requires us to rely on an integrated approach.
The importance given to factors that drive social acceptability, then, depends on the specificities of each territory. The question is how to integrate this information into governance. To that end, a 3-step approach was developed, tested and implemented to support the assessment and fostering of social acceptability in Mediterranean aquaculture:
This 3-step analytical framework allows for the exploration of new forms of governance based on participatory approaches, especially useful for:
• raising awareness among project stakeholders and public authorities in charge of aquaculture development of the social issues that can result in processes of social unacceptability;
• establishing a diagnosis through analysis of local contexts, stakeholders and social issues rather than promoting projects developed ex nihilo without insight into local integration;
• involving stakeholders and the general public at the right time in decision-making processes (as far upstream as possible), rather than focusing on simple one-way communication campaigns (“it’s good for you, do not worry, we take care of everything, it’s our job”);
• implementing actions on a sincere basis after consultation, rather than building technical administrative implementation processes where everything is already decided;
• taking the time to develop social dialogue and, consequently, avoiding hasty decision making.
• abandoning projects with no social support rather than maintaining projects without legitimacy, which lead to higher costs in the long run.
Social acceptability, governance and stakeholder involvement: a key issue. Social acceptability is a social construct. Consultation on social acceptability concerns is of importance, making it possible to go from an individual vision to the collective interest, integrating all stakeholders to co-construct a common and shared vision of aquaculture development within a territory. It requires us to adapt the governance framework and the project construction process to the context of each territory.
The private sphere of social acceptability. Taking the decision-making framework into account, it is also important to know if this relies on an institutional context within a political or administrative procedure, or on a private initiative that links the action or proposal of a private entity with the positioning of one or more individuals, individually or collectively, with respect to this action or proposal. The economic and social impact of the sector on coastal communities is one of the key factors that condition social acceptability. It is therefore important to identify and analyze the main social acceptability factors for coastal aquaculture, which can help fish farm companies and public bodies to improve public-private sector relations, minimize conflicts and increase social acceptability. The approach was developed through Corporate Social Responsibility, often associated with what is most commonly referred to as a Social License to Operate (SLO). Recommendations issued from the analysis are:
• At the company level: to promote social licenses to operate as a corporate responsibility strategy in order to deal with the expectations of local communities, to enhance their integration into the territory where the development is taking place, during both the installation and operational phases.
• Fish farmers should build an approach towards the local societies based on proactive actions, through dialogue and co-construction processes, supported by good practice for sustainable aquaculture and socio-economic returns for their territories.
• Create relationships which prevent conflict and satisfy the needs of local societies in relation to expectations of economic benefit from any large investments; establish proactive conflict resolution plans.
• At the public policy and industry level: 1) Support consultation, 2) Give due importance to the needs of both 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.
Finally, with a particular emphasis on the need for stakeholder engagement through a participative approach to assessing and fostering social acceptability of aquaculture development, step-by-step recommendations and promotional documentation to support integration for decision-making is provided in edited guidelines accessible to stakeholders and decision makers.
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