Principles and Tools to Foster Social Acceptability of Aquaculture Development

Within the Blue Growth Strategy, aquaculture is perceived and quoted as a sector that has a high potential for sustainable jobs and growth and that has to be developed. Despite a strong initial growth at the beginning of the Blue Revolution, European aquaculture, and in particular marine fish farming, began to stall and stagnate. The new drivers initiated by the Blue Growth seem to have great difficulty in reversing that trend and progressing towards the stated objectives in terms of production volumes, in the light of the production statistics over the last decade. Marine socio-ecosystems are complex systems, they demonstrate non-matching scales, surprises (non-linearities), interconnection with other systems, memory effects, choke points and so on. This complexity calls for more integrated assessment through integration of existing knowledge: integration of sciences (among disciplines), integration of sciences and society, integration of sciences and policy and integration of uses. If some integrated assessment framework were developed such as the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries, and its counterpart for aquaculture the Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture, in practice they never really reach the required level of integration. In particular, by focusing on the ecological carrying capacity and leaving aside the social and institutional dimensions and especially the governance issues of these socio-ecosystems. While much effort has been put into technological innovations and the measure of their impact on farms, relatively little has been put into institutional innovations. But beyond of technical and profitability issues, social acceptability is now considered as one of the main bottlenecks to aquaculture development. As already underlined, existing assessment frameworks are not able to catch that key dimension of aquaculture development. There is then a need to propose and develop such an assessment framework of Social Acceptability (SA) of aquaculture development. In addition to the reviewing of existing frameworks and experiences in other industries, taking into account the complexity of marine socio-ecosystems, main drivers and bottlenecks to aquaculture development were identified to better understand the factors contributing to SA. Main bottlenecks are attached to the way aquaculture development was thought and implemented: forgetting the way of production to solely focus on the volume to produce; basing aquaculture development on scientific and technical expertise and imposing top-down projects developed «ex nihilo» without insights on local integration; implementing such projects based on communication approach by solely providing information without participatory processes and stakehoders engagement; misperceiving SA through the solely acceptability of the product and not the acceptability of the activity. All this leads to a series of adverse effects such as markets disconnection, vicious circle of unprofitability, lack of trust and confidence in aquaculture, fuzzy developments, contributing to aggravating factors of social unacceptability. The MedAID research project (, Mediterranean Integrated Aquaculture Development, financed by the H2020 EU program) worked in an attempt to integrate all these dimensions to support sustainable marine aquaculture development in the Mediterranean. It proposes an integrated framework to rethink the development of marine aquaculture in Europe and beyond, through the SA dimension as an integrating dimension. An assessment framework for SA of aquaculture development was developed and implemented over several case studies in the Mediterranean through the proposal of a 3 steps approach experimentation. Participatory approaches are at the core of the assessment framework and introduction and recommendations to these approaches are produced too, with references to existing tools. The implementation of the 3 steps approach to assess SA of aquaculture development underlined four main recommendations: 1) Support concertation, 2) Give importance to the adequacy between the territory and the project, 3) Value the benefits of the project and promote transparency and 4) Establish a framework that support aquaculture development and compliance to the development process. These recommendations finally appear as an essential prerequisite for a more peaceful, more virtuous and acceptable development that will drive back marine aquaculture to sustainability. A maybe not sufficient condition to sustainable aquaculture development but, a necessary one.

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Raux Pascal, Pérez Agúndez José A., Rougier Jean-Emmanuel, Lancelot Loeiza, Barbe Audrey (2021). Principles and Tools to Foster Social Acceptability of Aquaculture Development.

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