Aquaculture could be the answer. But only if it can fix its reputation
We have a problem. We cannot produce enough food in a sustainable way to feed the world’s population. Every day, we are using non-replaceable resources for food production. And that is very clearly not a long-term solution. We urgently need new and sustainable sources of protein.
The good news is that the World Bank has identified aquaculture as a viable solution (World Bank, 2013:2-3).
As marine livestock progressively outcompetes wild-caught fish in terms of pricing, it’s easy to see a future where harvesting from the seas is solely conducted within sustainable limits.
Nowhere is the promise of sustainable and affordable protein more profound than in developing nations, where millions struggle daily to secure enough protein. Aquaculture could well bridge the gap. It is less capital-intensive than other sources of protein and it is adaptable to different food cultures and national food systems. Importantly, if done properly, aquaculture can be environmentally sustainable (World Bank, 2013: xix).
However, and it is a big however, the aquaculture industry is struggling with its image. To deliver the promise of its potential, it must build and sustain consumer appetite for farmed fish. And right now, that isn’t happening.
The industry is caught in a cycle of bad news. With each new wave of information, fish farming faces a growing tide of opponents who are vocal in their concerns over its negative environmental footprint, animal welfare, and the healthiness of its output. Global news is filled with imagery of suffering fish stock, their bodies marked by lice, infections and overfeeding.
We regularly hear about salmon dying in the facilities by the thousands, challenging consumers’ trust and ability to stomach the industry.
The aquaculture industry has, therefore, an urgent need to affirm its image as an ecological and ethical sector, not one that cynically exploits fish, regardless of the suffering it imposes. It is not a trivial task and the list of issues is long. The most pressing, current criticisms are:
- Animal welfare and disease outbreaks
- Environmental concerns, including the discharge of waste and chemicals
- Escapes of farmed salmon and dilution of wild salmon genetic diversity
- The use of fishmeal as the main feed, and the resulting potential for overfishing
It will take a lot of work to turn the industry’s reputation around, and, of course, it must start with concrete action, not simply communications. There is also no doubt that detractors will continue to paint the industry in a bad light. However, it is possible to win trust and protect the brand, starting with:
- Understand the wider issues: ESG issues are generally not one-off crisis issues. Aquaculture touches upon a nexus of international development, human health, environmental concerns and animal welfare. This presents plenty of opportunities for positive communication.
- Know your footprint: Use the ESG framework to develop a strategy and tactical plan. If you know your ESG performance outperforms the industry standards, your stakeholders and detractors should also know.
- Identify your objective: What is your desired outcome? There is a wide range of potential objectives. It is important to find the balance between being ambitious and being realistic.
- Develop a strategic narrative: Having a clear vision, mission and narrative will help define what sort of communication you aim to have.
- Know who you’re talking to: Stakeholder and audience analysis is critical – identifying your audience determines how you frame your message.
Leidar’s team is made up of communications experts who can help frame and deliver your brand reputation programme. We also have particular expertise in the maritime sector, led by Carl Gustaf Lundin, one of the world’s leaders in maritime sustainability.
World Bank. (2013). Fish to 2030: Prospects for Fisheries and Aquaculture. Retrieved from https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/458631468152376668/pdf/831770WP0P11260ES003000Fish0to02030.pdf
White, R. (2023, Jun 31). Newsweek. Retrieved from ‘Zombie Salmon’ at Fish Farm With Chunks of Flesh Missing Spark Probe: https://www.newsweek.com/zombie-salmon-fish-farm-chunks-flesh-missing-1816338