Three years after the New Zealand fishing industry began a campaign to improve public perception of the sector, there has been a plethora of other work emerge on the topic of social contract, or social license, in the seafood industry.

Most recently, the World Ocean Council (WOC), the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security and Wageningen University released a report called Social License and the Blue Economy.

Globally, the fishing industry face similar problems of public trust and perception, however in the New Zealand instance the divide between international perception and domestic perception is vast. While New Zealand’s fisheries management system is regarded as top rate internationally, those claims are often greeted with sceptism at home.

Soon after the New Zealand industry launched its Promise campaign, the Australian sector quickly and unashamedly replicated the campaign with their own, which they called The Pledge.  Australia too is under a constant battle to move the public’s view from a social media-fuelled ‘reality’ to a science-based reality. 

The Australian report, Social License and the Blue Economy, reinforces the need to keep talking globally about how to improve trust and reputation in the industry, saying there are likely to be significant benefits in sharing lessons learnt.

The report rightly illustrates, while the aim of building trust is worthy, it is a grenade strewn path and it points to the enormous scope and variety of stakeholders as the main issue. ‘This was especially challenging in relation to special interest groups who are influenced in their concerns and opinions by values, beliefs or areas of interest, which may not be consistent with other communities with which the industry interacts’.

In other words, science was often not the winner when pitted against firmly held values and ideologies.

However, that is not a reason to quit trying as the struggle is not New Zealand’s alone.

Seafood New Zealand engages Nielsen Research to run public perception research into the industry and has done so for the past five years.

Australia’s Fisheries Development and Research Corporation (FRDC) conduct similar research and their latest findings are worth noting.

Sustainability and overfishing are the two core concerns for the public on both sides of the Tasman.

Some 36 Percent of Australians surveyed believed their fisheries were sustainable, which is a drop from 41 percent in 2017. In New Zealand, 51 percent believe our fishery is sustainable, up from 44 percent last year.    

And the more people know about the industry the higher their trust that sustainability and over-fishing are not issues.

Both countries share a small, but vocal group of opponents who believe commercial fishing will never be sustainable. The FRDC research says shifting these people’s perceptions will be ‘a hugely difficult challenge’.

In the ‘Social License and the Blue Economy’ report New Zealand’s strategy to improve its social license with the public through the Promise campaign is singled out as best practise by ‘humanising the industry through story-telling and linking the consumer to the faces of the industry’.

We must continue doing that.