Stakeholder Perceptions of the Cornwall Finfish Aquaculture Demonstration Project

Authors: Memery, J. and Birch, D.

Publisher: Bournemouth University


Almost 50 percent of seafood consumption globally resulted from aquaculture in 2012 and this share is projected to rise to 62 percent by 2030 (FA0, 2014). In the UK, aquaculture is dominated by net-pen Scottish farmed seafood worth £584.7 million in 2011 (Cefas, 2013). England is currently lagging behind its UK and European neighbours in developing this industry, with the majority of its aquaculture output coming from long established trout, mussel and oyster farms, but with no finfish currently being farmed in southern UK coastal waters (Cefas, 2013). To address the shortfall of aquaculture sites in England, The Crown Estate (TCE), The Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas), and the British Trout Association (BTA) have formed a Project Team to work jointly on a Demonstration Project addressing the sustainable production of large marine-reared rainbow trout in the coastal waters of Cornwall. The Project Team has acknowledged stakeholder engagement as a central tenet of the wider project, and thus has sought views from local interests on the extent of understanding, views and perspectives of the planned development. The research presented in this report identifies key issues in relation to stakeholder perceptions of aquaculture and the Cornwall Finfish Aquaculture Demonstration Project (C5843). The objectives of the project are to: 1. Establish the level of awareness and understanding of aquaculture among key stakeholders in the South West region; 2. Identify key stakeholders’ perceived benefits and drawbacks in terms of potential social, environmental and economic impacts associated with fish farming in the region; 3. Ascertain the major challenges key stakeholders envisage the Project Team will encounter in establishing a fish farm in Cornwall; 4. Explore the attitudes of key stakeholders towards the Cornwall Finfish Aquaculture Demonstration Project; 5. Develop a stakeholder matrix to stratify key stakeholders in terms of levels of interest and influence in relation to the Cornwall Finfish Aquaculture Demonstration Project; 6. Suggest strategies for consideration when taking the project forward.

Eighteen in-depth interviews were conducted with key stakeholders from parties interested in the use of marine waters in South West England, or the associated business/community network surrounding it, and included representatives from the government, fishing/marine, business/ catering, and tourism/leisure sectors, as well as environmental organisations and charities. The stakeholder analysis explores perceived benefits and drawbacks of the proposed project in terms of potential economic, social, and environmental impacts, as well as perceived challenges in terms of setting up and running the project. Stakeholders were also asked what would need to put in place to address any concerns they may have with respect to the proposed project. Benefits. Stakeholders identify a number of economic, social and environmental benefits associated with the proposed fish farm demonstration project. Economic benefits include limited employment opportunities (direct and indirect), stimulation of the local economy, development of a locally-branded quality product, improved seafood variety and new product opportunities, opportunities for tourism and exporting. Social benefits include increased food supply and affordable seafood, sustainable fish farms and more sustainable seafood consumption, more wild fish to catch for recreational fishers, a template for best practice aquaculture, educational and research opportunities, and community support. Very few respondents identify environmental benefits associated with the proposed fish farm demonstration project; however, the protection of other fish stocks, the formation of artificial habitats, and improved water quality were mentioned as potential environmental benefits. Drawbacks. Conversely, stakeholders identify numerous economic, social and environmental drawbacks associated with the proposed fish farm demonstration project. The main economic drawbacks are a negative impact on existing commercial fisheries including navigation issues, negative impact on other income-generating activities, exploitation by large corporations, potential negative impact on the Cornish brand, and a negative impact on tourism. Social drawbacks include negative impacts on other users or activities, animal welfare, and negative impacts on the landscape and seascape. The main environmental drawbacks are concerns about bio-security including disease, cross contamination and escapees, parasites, pharmaceuticals and chemical treatments, detrimental environmental impacts, pollution, decreased water quality and eutrophication, sustainability of feeding farmed fish, and predator mitigation.

Challenges. The major environmental challenges identified by interviewees associated with the establishment of the proposed fish farm project relate to locating a suitable site, minimising access issues, avoiding protected conservation areas and complying with the water framework directive (WFD), and selecting the right operator. The key economic challenges include ensuring economic viability and accessing required resources, lack of demand for rainbow trout and thus the need for marketing and export markets, lack of supporting infrastructure and overcoming government red tape. Social challenges identified include vanquishing negative perceptions of fish farming, gaining acceptance through community involvement, and the potential negative impact on aquaculture if the demonstration project fails.

Visual impact. Responses to images of fish farms are divided. Some interviewees do not consider fish farms to be visually unappealing, not vastly different from existing oyster and mussel farms in the region and what they would expect to see in a working seaside town. Moreover, some have confidence that legislation will not allow anything too detrimental to the seascape and landscape to occur. However, others have more negative perceptions due to the proximity of the pens to the land, with some noting that the sheltered calm water depicted in the images is not typical of the landscape of Cornwall and hence not representative of how the proposed fish farm would look or operate in the more rugged and stormy South West region. Moreover, some interviewees highlight the importance of tourism in the region and thus the importance of retaining the integrity of the seascape and landscape. Overall attitude by sector. Based on interviewee responses to the questions, the researchers sought to gain a perspective of each interviewee’s overall attitude toward the proposed fish farming project and also each sector. Predominately, the environment sector has a negative attitude toward the project, with two people expressing very negative attitudes. Not surprisingly, these negative attitudes are primarily based on concerns about detrimental impacts on the environment, inefficient feeding methods, and threats to biodiversity. Interviewees from this sector highlight the need for close assessment and good management to mitigate detrimental environment impacts. However, three interviewees from this sector believe that, if done well by taking into consideration lessons learnt from elsewhere and focusing on attaining high standards and best practice, the proposed project could be a “fantastic” opportunity for development of marine renewables in the region”. The tourism/leisure sector has an overall neutral attitude toward the project, but tending towards negative. While some economic and social benefits are perceived by the sector, negative perceptions are mainly associated with the scale of the operation, potential detrimental environmental impacts, impacts on access for other users and activities including recreational activities (beaches, water sports, fishing, etc.) and navigation, and these perceptions are exacerbated by having insufficient information about the proposed project (e.g. siting). Likewise, the government sector has a neutral attitude, and while not being opposed to the project they would like more information and assurances that social and environmental issues will be addressed. In contrast, the business sector has a very positive attitude toward the proposed project based on believing that the enterprise would be very good for the Cornish economy, and a good fit with the Cornish psyche and the existing food and drink industry in Cornwall. The fishing sector is also cautiously positive based on potential economic benefits and perceptions of minimal conflict with existing fishing due to the species in question (i.e. rainbow trout). These positive perceptions, however, are balanced with questions regarding the economic and logistical viability of the project and the need to address potential conflicts and environmental impacts. The role of media. Generally, respondents believe that people are not well informed about fish farming and that the media has a strong influence on attitudes toward fish farming. Respondents report using a range of media including the national press and specialist publications. Interviewees acknowledge that the views being portrayed in the media are dependent on the publication/media source; however, typically press coverage on fish farming tends to be negative and can be biased. Approaches for ‘putting minds at rest’. In terms of “putting minds at rest”, interviewees identified a range of approaches. For setting up the project, approaches include openly addressing the issues facing aquaculture; ongoing, open, inclusive and transparent stakeholder engagement and consultation; the provision of independent, timely and accurate information; mapping the current use of marine waters in the region; careful site location; baseline studies to establish economic viability and environmental impact; establishing market demand; consideration of environmentally-friendly approaches; certification and assurance of ‘best practice’ (e.g. ASC, Freedom Foods, RSPCA), involvement of relevant NGOs (e.g. MCS); and assurances of good animal husbandry. In terms of managing the project, approaches included rigorous ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the project; an environmentally responsible exit strategy – “cradle-to-grave” implementation strategy; getting it right by learning from past mistakes and “doing it differently”.

Strategies to progress the project. The research findings lead to a number of strategies for going forward being suggested. These include delivering a premium quality local product; engaging local business and ambassadors/endorsers; education strategies; effective marketing, branding and labelling of a local product; messages based on key benefits of the product (e.g. health, freshness, local); locally-based media/communication strategies and information dissemination; and targeted communication strategies (commercial v environmental focused segments) based on key areas of concern. Conclusions summarise the key aspects of the overall report, and recommendations encapsulate the aspects the research team should consider/implement as the demonstration project unfolds.

Source: Manual