Social licence key to EU aquaculture growth

Dr Suzi Billing of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), one of the GENIALG project partners, has recently published research entitled – ‘Using public comments to gauge social licence to operate for finfish aquaculture: Lessons from Scotland’. This research was part of the EU-funded AquaSpace project (, with the main objective of improving understanding of the constraints of European aquaculture industry growth.

Social Licence to Operate (SLO) is a theory which is useful in describing social acceptability between industries and local communities and other businesses. SLO developed in the mining industry in order to improve community relations, however it is now spreading and is being utilised in other industries such as in aquaculture. Some good examples of SLO are a company’s positive reputation amongst the locals and the community supporting ongoing activities, without objections or issues which require settlement in court.

One of the most remarkable findings from Dr Billing’s research was that there is a total lack of transparent, unbiased information on finfish aquaculture available to local communities and the general public. For example, the extent or significance of the impact finfish farming has on the environment is not widely known. This could affect the general public’s perception as they are left to depend on the information supplied by ENGOs and aquaculture operators.

Another finding of the research was that any negative reports of finfish farms, are in fact the reports that the general public pay the most attention to. For example, it was learned that the general public will gauge all finfish farms by the one that has been reported as having the lowest operating standards, with some reports of a one-off event having the most influence over people! As might be expected, the importance of enforcement by regulatory agencies for violations encountered on some farms was also established in order to reassure and gain the public’s trust.

There is a need to investigate the societal interactions of aquaculture, tourism and renewable energy as all three of these industries are seeking to grow, have the support of the Scottish Government and could operate in similar areas.

As part of Work Package 6 of GENIALG, Dr Billings is currently developing a social licence to operate handbook for seaweed cultivation, they are looking at the socio-environmental benefits of seaweed farming and social licence to operate giving the industry and communities an understanding of the potential social interactions.

The full article can be accessed here: Accessed 22 January 2019