Posted on 12 March 2020

Aquaculture – it’s not just business, it's personal

Building genuine relationships with the communities they operate in is more important for NZ aquaculture companies than environmental, social or economic factors in determining whether that company gains and maintains social licence to operate (SLO) in Aotearoa.

The Frameworks for achieving and maintaining social licence project team, led by Jim Sinner (Cawthron Institute), surveyed New Zealanders to explore the question of what and who determines public acceptability of aquaculture in New Zealand.

They found that the quality of the interactions between a company and the community is the most important factor in the strength of a company’s SLO. This builds on their previous findings that ‘relational’ relationships – where an aquaculture company’s employees have long-term relationships, not just one-off interactions, with the community – are a significant factor in whether that company gains and maintains SLO.

“It isn’t the number of times a company goes into the community, it’s the quality of connections that are important. One respectful, informative or pleasant interaction can leave a better impression on the community than multiple average interactions,” says Jim.

“It’s more about the long term ‘we care about you and respect you’, over the short term ‘we give you this in return for that’.”

Other important factors to SLO were economic fairness and cultural impacts. Surprisingly, the team found that environmental, social or economic factors did not have a big influence on SLO.

Jim explains, “It’s not necessarily that people don’t care about these, but that people are more likely to trust a company to address these things if they have had high quality interactions with the company.”

However, while economic output wasn’t a significant predictor of SLO, economic fairness was.

“People care about how the economic benefits from aquaculture are shared throughout their community. This suggests that aquaculture companies should demonstrate how they’re giving back to their communities, such as employing local people and using local suppliers, rather than showing how they contribute to national or even regional GDP,” Jim says.

They also found that SLO scores depend on who is being asked.

“If an aquaculture company wants to find out their social licence score, we recommend surveying the people and groups directly affected by their activities, using a range of methods to reach them, from company email lists to social media channels, and direct contact with tangata whenua,” Jim concludes.

This research was published in the international journal Aquaculture. Read more.

Notes to editors

About the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge – The vision of Sustainable Seas is for Aotearoa New Zealand to have healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for all New Zealanders. It brings together scientists, social scientists, economists, and experts in mātauranga Māori and policy. It is funded by MBIE and hosted by NIWA. 
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About the National Science Challenges – Sustainable Seas is one of 11 National Science Challenges. These align and focus Aotearoa New Zealand’s research on large and complex issues, bringing together scientists and experts from different organisations and across disciplines to achieve a common goal.

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