Most people would agree 2016 played host to a seismic shift in world politics. With Article 50 on the verge of being triggered, people from all walks of life are wondering what the future holds for them in post-Brexit Britain. Not least, the fishing industry.
You may think the challenges facing commercial fishing are well established. For example, fishing holds the longstanding title of ‘most dangerous occupation in the world’ with the fatal accident rate over 100 times that of the general workforce in the UK.
Additionally, fishing is an industry we are heavily reliant on and has rich historical ties with our island nation. Around 80% of us consume seafood at least once a month and the UK fishing industry remains crucially important to many coastal towns.
Criticism, however, is never far away. Organisations such as Greenpeace have run regular sensationalist campaigns condemning the effects of fishing, including excess bycatch, discards, diminishing stocks, environmental damage and animal welfare.
External pressures are only going to add to an already turbulent discussion. Brexit negotiations throw quotas and the jurisdiction of waters up in the air, making the future for fishermen particularly hazy.
In January, Prime Minister Theresa May came under attack from UK fishermen for ‘betraying’ them when outlining the government’s plans for the negotiations with the EU after the triggering of Article 50. In a Brexit speech at Westminster, May was deemed to have failed to address the future of UK fisheries and the relationship with the rest of Europe once ties are cut on Union membership. Fears about fishing being used as a ‘bargaining chip’ in negotiations only served to raise the stakes for a proud industry which MEP Mike Hookem believes could be a ‘shot in the arm’ for the country post-Brexit.
This new political environment and subsequent change does, however, present an opportunity to those within the fishing industry. Customers will be looking for reliability, consistency and stability among the uncertainty. With strong communications there is the chance to be a leading light in what may appear an uncertain time. Building a strong media presence can position you as the voice of the industry. It is perhaps not a time to rock the boat, as being consistent and reliable can breed confidence and trust.
Currently, 66% of UK fish exports go to the EU, meaning tariff-free or low-tariff trade could be vital to Britain in the coming years. Brexit will mean the UK leaves the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and gains the right under international law to control who fishes within its waters.
Whilst many see the UK’s impending release from EU ties as positive for the fishing industry, there are warnings to be considered. The CFP is a taboo topic in many industry circles and whilst ‘taking back control’ of British waters is a popular mantra, those working in fisheries will have to act smartly to ensure any potential freedom is enjoyed responsibly.
These concerns, and more, highlight the need for communications to be carefully managed and balanced with good practice to maintain successful operations within fishing companies. If companies show good preparation in their handling of the media and act first, fast and frank in the case of an incident, it can put them on the front foot rather than relying on reactionary measures.
Acceleris has worked with the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) since 2013, landing six awards in the process, at both national and European level.
Just days after starting work with the NFFO, we established an integrated crisis communications plan when they came up against a direct attack from Greenpeace, coinciding with ground-breaking European legislation change and a protest lobby led by TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. From a standing start, Acceleris achieved five of seven annual objectives in the first month, landing 88 pieces of coverage (89% positive), 135 million positive opportunities to see and laid the foundations for a much higher media profile, including coverage on Newsnight and in The Times.
We have since challenged misconceptions about the fishing industry through campaigns such as ‘Let Them Eat Hake’, the championing of Britain’s most sustainable fish, in 2014. Through a radio day, celebrity endorsements, hake tasting sessions attended by opinion formers and the use of video, the celebration of sustainability changed the conversation from concerns about overfishing, generating significant positive coverage across media platforms over a prolonged period.
We have the experience and expertise to make a difference from the get-go.
Challenges to fishing are not going to go away in a hurry. The balance between operating successfully at a financial level and maintaining responsibility is a difficult one to manage. If you need support steering through these turbulent times, we are here to help. Give us a call today on 0845 4567 251 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.