Communication still a challenge


Fiona Robinson, SeaFood Business associate publisher and editor

Published on
June 8, 2011

Editor’s note: Fiona Robinson, associate publisher and editor-in-chief of SeaFood Business magazine, attended Wednesday’s World Oceans Day Industry Forum in Washington, D.C. 

Communication (or lack thereof) was the recurring theme at Wednesday’s World Oceans Day Industry Forum in Washington, D.C. The forum, sponsored by Smithsonian, SeaWeb and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service, attracted approximately 100 scientists, administrators, producers and environmentalists at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

It’s trite to say “Can’t we all get on the same page?” But communication is clearly an ongoing problem in an industry that has so many moving pieces and is the constant focus of groups with questionable motivations. While NOAA Fisheries has stepped up its communication strategy in the past year, the industry can’t rely on this agency alone as it gets pummeled by environmentalists and a mainstream media unwilling to see any positive message related to U.S. fish, whether it’s wild or farmed.

Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Marine Fisheries Service, mentioned during the first panel, U.S. Fisheries — Turning the Corner and Looking Ahead, that communication is one of the agency’s main challenges. Ensuring that everyone is working with accurate information, and that all of the right information is getting to the right people, remains a hurdle, said Schwaab.

The domestic aquaculture industry continues to struggle with permitting for sites and misinformation surrounding fishmeal, antibiotics and fish waste. The panel, Aquaculture — Dispelling the Myths, answered questions on these topics that continue to plague farms.

“The public haven’t heard that aquaculture has the potential to be the cornerstone of a global sustainable food system,” said Josh Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Australis Aquaculture in Turners Falls, Mass. “The lack of a balanced message is taking a toll on U.S. seafood consumption.”

The public hasn’t heard any positive stories because the majority of mainstream media refuses to cover anything but headline-grabbing bad news. Mike Voisin of Motivatit Seafood in Houma, La., said during the Seafood in the Gulf: One Year After the Oil Spill discussion that several media outlets refused to cover the fallout of the BP oil spill on the Gulf seafood industry because the story wasn’t bad — he couldn’t produce oil-covered seafood.

On Thursday, NOAA released its much-anticipated national marine aquaculture policy, which will be sure to generate more aquaculture-focused stories over the next few weeks. Here’s hoping the coverage doesn’t include the misperceptions about aquaculture discussed this week — but I’m not holding my breath on that.

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