Sustainability Reporting in Fishing Industry Management - Regulation versus Voluntarism

By Wild, Susan | Australasian Accounting Business & Finance Journal, September 2008 | Go to article overview

Sustainability Reporting in Fishing Industry Management - Regulation versus Voluntarism


Wild, Susan, Australasian Accounting Business & Finance Journal


ABSTRACT

A growing number of major corporations and industry organizations now overtly advocate the general concept of corporate social and environmental responsibility, commonly emphasising the 'business case' for such behaviour on the basis that it is 'good for business'. Many now report to their stakeholders on a voluntaristic basis a range of information regarding their impacts on the social and physical environment in which they operate.

Intrinsic to the business case model is the argument that an optimal balance between the needs of economic growth and the sustainable management of natural resources can best be attained through the conventional mechanisms of corporate governance and voluntary corporate activity, rather than by imposition of governmental regulation. This view implies, however, that where the exigencies of environmental sustainability conflict with those of economic imperatives, the latter must take precedence.

A view oppositional to that of the business case instead promotes an intensified interventionist approach towards natural resource management, advocating increased governmental regulation and control, including the mandating, standardization and independent verification of corporate sustainability reporting. This view gives precedence to public good concepts of natural resource management, prioritising intra- and inter-generational equity and human rights theories as to natural resource distribution, and challenges traditional economic approaches to the relational intersects of business, politics and environment science.

This paper considers the relative claims for efficacy in achieving desirable corporate environmental behaviours of the business case and voluntary self-regulation model, vis-à-vis those for extended mandatory governmental control, utilizing the exemplar of voluntary sustainability reporting in the New Zealand fishing industry.

Keywords: sustainability reporting; fishing industry; corporate social responsibility.

Introduction

A critical issue in the global management of natural resources, including fisheries, is attaining an optimal balance between the competing demands of national and international economic growth, and those of long-term species viability and eco-system sustainability (for example, Diamond, 2005; Clover, 2004). Fish stocks world-wide are under increasing pressure due to depletion from over-fishing, damage to marine eco-systems from destructive fishing practices, eutrophication and other forms of pollution, and changes in global climatic conditions.

The long-term sustainability of many fish species is in doubt, unless wide-scale and substantive changes to current industrialized fishing practices are implemented in the short term (Worm et al, 2006; ELME, 2007; Pearce, 2003). Reports from governmental and other international bodies, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), as well as a range of independent researchers, have indicated the profound extent of ecological damage caused by unsustainable fishing practices, and its potential long-term economic and human consequences (for example, UNFAO, 1995; Gjerde, 2006; Gianni, 2004; Clover, 2004). Research indicates that 75% of global stocks are now utilized to at least their sustainable catch limits, with increasing acceleration in the rate of decline and increasing threat of species extinction. Extrapolation of current data illustrates that unless present trends are reversed within the short-term, no viable commercial fisheries world-wide will exist by the middle of the present century (Worm et al, 2006; Diamond, 2005, 498; Black, 7 December 2007.)

The application of sophisticated technologies and industrialized harvesting methods by national and multinational fishing enterprises, coupled with rapidly increasing global demand for fish as a food resource and for other utilizations, have already caused the complete collapse of some commercial fisheries, and threaten the survival of many others, particularly in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific regions. …

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