The Social in Assessing for Sustainability. Fisheries in Australia.

Kate Barclay


The notion that sustainability rests on three pillars – economic, environmental and social – has been widely accepted since the 1990s. In practice, however, the economic and environmental aspects have tended to dominate the sustainability agenda, and social aspects have been sidelined. Two reasons for this are: 1) there is a lack of data collected about which to build meaningful pictures of social aspects of sustainability for populations over time, and 2) there is a lack of recognition of the role of social factors in sustainability, and a related lack of understanding of how to analyse them in conjunction with economic and environmental factors. This paper surveys the literature about sustainability in fisheries, focussing on Australia, and focussing on the way social aspects have been treated. The paper finds that the problems that have been identified for assessing the social in sustainability in general are certainly manifest in fisheries. Management of Australian fisheries has arguably made great improvements to biological sustainability over the last decade, but much remains to be done to generate similar improvements in social sustainability for fishing communities. This is the case for government-run resource management as well as for initiatives from the private sector and conservation organizations as part of movements for corporate social responsibility and ethical consumerism. A significant challenge for improving sustainability in Australian fisheries, therefore, lies in improving data collection on social factors, and in bridging disciplinary divides to better integrate social with economic and biological assessments of sustainability.

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