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Study into the social benefits of aquaculture. Increasingly, governments are emphasising aquaculture as both a contribution to food security and a supplement to decreasing fish catches resulting from overharvesting. However, despite the rapid development of aquaculture, western societies have largely failed to address the social effects, according to the members of ICES Working Group on Social and Economic Dimensions of Aquaculture (WGSEDA).  In their recently published paper they point out that “social and cultural aspects of aquaculture production have taken a backseat compared to trade, technology and biological implications”. Failure to meet key social components on multiple geographic scales, they argue, will render aquaculture production unsustainable in view of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Indeed, the SDGs explicitly include social and economic goals that need to be recognised side by side if aquaculture is to fulfil its sustainability potential. Global attention has been gained on protecting marine biodiversity (SDG 14) while utilising marine areas, such as aquaculture to ensure marine food security, creating income options, and viable working waterfront communities, among others (SDG 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 11, 12).

Under the inclusive umbrella of the SDGs, finfish aquaculture seems to be more impactful from a social perspective than rope mussel farming, however the latter can hold important cultural values and contributes to place-based understanding. As this supports connecting people with place and identity, it plays a vital role in maintaining the working waterfront. Aquaculture hence hosts a potential as pull-factor to incentivise people to remain in the area, keeping communities viable.

To-date, no paper has clearly demonstrated the constraints that have held aquaculture back from realizing its full potential in terms of growth and contributing to the multifaceted global issues such as sustainable sources of protein.  With their research, WGSEDA has now highlighted, identified, and visualised for the first time the social and cultural dimensions of sustainable aquaculture and they argue that “knowledge on these sustainability components support management being context-specific and reflective of social conditions thus more likely to foster support on multiple levels”.

The group’s paper presents case studies from across the North Atlantic and includes local/regional stakeholder knowledge in addition to scientific expert knowledge. Such knowledge inclusion is of importance, as social acceptability, as well as the definition of sustainable development, are social constructs and therefore their perception also depends on the cultural structures of each society. Therefore, the construction of social indicators such as those proposed in this work can provide information for trade-offs to be considered in decision-making. The group hopes that by visualising the social effects of aquaculture, a door may be opened for new narratives on the sustainability of aquaculture that render social license and social acceptability more positive.

Gesche Krause​, lead author and chair of WGSEDA, notes their findings will be of interest to a broad range of communities in science and policy arenas, including those interested in the question of global food security and human well-being whilst linking well with the ongoing debates on sustainable transformative development pathways across different institutional scales – from UN level down to local level realities.​

Read the full paper, Visualising the social in aquaculture: How social dimension components illustrate the effects of aquaculture across geographic scales, in Marine Policy

WGSEDA is a highly multi-disciplinary working group and as such capable of employing a social-ecological systems lens on the different dimensions of marine food production/security. In this work, the group addresses Ecosystem Science, Impacts of human activities, Seafood production, and Sea and society – four of ICES scientific priorities. Discover all seven interrelated scientific priorities and how our network will address them in our Science Plan: “Marine ecosystem and sustainability science for the 2020s and beyond” . ​