Common approach to clearer language

By Catherine Norwood

The meaning of terms such as ‘sustainability’, ‘responsible fishing’, ‘fully fished’ and ‘overfished’ is often unclear to members of the general public, and also to those within the fishing industry and seafood supply chain.

Seafood Services Australia (SSA), in conjunction with the FRDC, is working on a project designed to develop a consensus on a range of issues affecting the Australian fishing and aquaculture sectors.
The ‘Common Language Group’ project is based on a similar effort in the UK.

During the past decade the UK project, overseen by the Seafish Industry Authority, has developed and adopted agreed positions on a range of topical issues affecting the industry, providing a forum and framework for all stakeholders to reach a consensus.

The head of environmental responsibility for Seafish, Phil MacMullen, says the project has improved industry transparency and consumer confidence. In Australia, it is hoped the Common Language Group will improve public perceptions of the Australian seafood industry by removing confusion.

The FRDC’s executive director, Patrick Hone, says the industry needs to work with other influential stakeholders to agree on a science-based process to address areas of disagreement.

SSA has formed an interim group to develop the initiative, which is expected to be formally launched within the next few months. All key stakeholder groups will be represented through the Common Language Group.

The executive officer of SSA, Michelle Christoe, says seafood industry sectors have not traditionally worked closely together on a problem.

“However, the Common Language Group will allow us to pioneer a collaborative, national approach to complex issues that affect the seafood supply chain, for the sake of sustainable sourcing and responsible practice.”

Michelle Christoe worked in the food industry in a variety of marketing and strategic development roles for more than 20 years before joining SSA last year. She says there appears to be more confusion about terminology in the seafood industry than in other food industries.

“There are completely different practices in the wild capture and aquaculture sectors, and even in the processing sector, that all contribute to the confusion,” she says.

In the public arena, topical issues facing the Australian seafood industry include sustainability, responsible fishing and fishing methods. In addition to the confusion about terminology within the seafood supply chain, there are also issues for a range of stakeholder groups and non-government organisations (NGOs), as well as among the general public.

“It contributes significantly to the negative perception of the Australian seafood industry on a range of issues, from our fisheries management to environmental impact,” Michelle Christoe says.

The importance of the language issue was raised by Phil MacMullen last year at an SSA Network Meeting involving key members of the Australian seafood industry and environmental NGOs. It was agreed at the meeting that the Australian seafood industry needed clearer definitions and terminology, along with increased community engagement on sustainability.

Many definitions and terms relating to fishery management and sustainability were identified as problematic. Adding to the confusion, particularly for consumers, is the existence of multiple eco-labels for seafood around the world – each with different criteria. 

Talking points

The initial discussions of the Common Language Group will focus on issues for the seafood industry such as:

  • terms that should have a clearer definition, such as ‘fully fished’ and ‘overfished’; and
  • misinformation on stock status.

FRDC Research Code: 2012-500

More information

Michelle Christoe, 0413 200 404

Seafish Industry Authority (UK)