Stewart Graham, managing director of Gael Force Group and co-chair of the Aquaculture Industry Leadership Group, addressed the recent Cold Harvest conference in Newfoundland, on the subject of earning social licence and winning public trust. Here is an edited version of his talk.
Gael Force is 35 years’ old and I have seen this industry growing from nothing in Scotland and, in parallel to Newfoundland, replacing a lot of what was a traditional fishing industry.
I have seen, first-hand, the transformational benefits aquaculture has brought to rural and island communities in particular. It has been an incredible game-changer, the single biggest thing next to the oil industry.
Two years ago, we created an aquaculture strategy for Scotland to 2030. We did that without authority or without being press-ganged.
We felt that while we were ge ng past our teething problems, we’d never actually had a strategy. We were really frustrated that in 2003 we were producing 170,000 tonnes of salmon and there we were in 2016, producing 170,000 tonnes of salmon.
Although we’d had a catastrophic implosion in 2003-2004 based on ISA, which took us down to below 100,000 tonnes, we had not moved on.
The first and early discussions took place with the producers and, of course, the producers had a producers’ organisation so there were some hurdles to overcome there. We needed them to buy into the fact that there was, and always will be, a wide and diverse range of stakeholders.
Once that penny dropped, with the producers recognising and understanding the wider stakeholder needs, we then got the government, the regulators and other stakeholders to come to the table, including all sections of the supply chain, the logistics, shellfish, value added, companies like ourselves, and all the various agencies too.
Having identified all the stakeholders, we had to understand their needs, starting with the Sco sh government. On a national level, we tried to understand what the government might want from this sector, and then appeal to them for some help, including with ministerial appointments.
And we assured them that, in our case, they didn’t have to spend any money! They would be receiving money from this growth industry that they were keen to encourage.
With our strategy, we thought it was better to be under the umbrella of food and drink (which has been a massive success story in Scotland), rather than in a fisheries sector.
We established our strategic priorities, and then set out 20 recommendations. We’re now working through those, with five or six closed off, and another six or seven that we’re well through, and the others that we haven’t quite started yet.
The direction is absolutely forwards, with complete buy in from the many stakeholders who were there when we devised the original strategy.
The key has been collaboration and ge ng everyone aligned, with producers realising there was much more benefit if they allowed scope and consideration to other stakeholders, and also ge ng regulators and consenting authorities to understand that there was a government requirement and an economic
imperative that there were social and economic development needs within rural communities.
We excluded, quite specifically, the anti-salmon farming lobby because we didn’t think they had anything to contribute to the discussion. We would have liked to have included them but we didn’t. They lacked the will to collaborate or align with a wider stakeholder group.
Their behaviour in Scotland has become similar to that of extremists. They are not open to discussion, their views are not open to challenge, some of their behaviour is subversive, and some of them are breaking the law.
And like any extremist group, no sensible, legitimate stakeholder group could or should engage with them. They have no social licence and they haven’t won the public trust. They are fighting a war based on lack of facts, on untruths, not based on science, and they will remain marginalised and on the extreme.
However, that is the situation and we have to deal with it on an ongoing basis. Although their behaviour is becoming ever more radical, the invitation is still extended to them to come inside the tent and engage in constructive dialogue.
We, as a wider industry, have to think who our stakeholders are it’s our workforce and families, it’s our customers, it’s our supply chain, it’s our host communities, it’s the municipal, provincial, national governments, regulators, other competitors for our resources there are other people who want that patch of seabed.
And at the bottom of the list, and rightly so, we have people like myself, the shareholders.
In building social licence, it’s very important that we engage and listen to these stakeholders and that we align our own business objectives with their interests.
Our behaviours can change if necessary. Our actions need to re ect and deliver on what we say we will do. If we want to start building trust, we must listen to other people and try and get alignment, and if we say we’re going to do something, we do it.
Why do we need a social licence and public trust We have a great story to tell and must tell it, but that’s not all we have to do.
You earn social licence and win public trust by understanding and delivering on all stakeholder views, by treating all stakeholders with respect, by being transparent, open and honest, by admi ng and learning from mistakes and doing so promptly, by building a satisfied workforce, pu ng back into your host community, and basically, doing the right thing.
Why is it important If, like in Newfoundland, we have top level political support, we could charge on regardless and forget everybody else perhaps. But that’s hardly sustainable and in the long term that will come undone.
Social licence and public trust helps us attract and retain a motivated and proud workforce, and attract and retain key customers, and we won’t do that if we fall foul of public trust.
We can build community support for new developments, we can win regulatory approval for operations, and political support through policy making, and we can deliver stronger and more sustainable business performance.
There is nothing about earning social licence and winning public trust that is not in the interests of building a strong and successful business.
A good corporate citi en delivers for all stakeholders and a good corporate citi en earns social licence and wins public trust by doing things right and doing the right thing there is nothing complicated about that.
But we need to not just say that, we need to all understand it and deliver on it.
The views expressed are those of Stewart Graham in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the
“Some of their behaviour is subversive, and some of them are breaking the law”
Left: Stewart Graham addresses delegates. Opposite: Senator Fabian Manning and Senator Bett Marshall welcome Gael Force Group to Newfoundland.