Contingency planning key as political unrest finds its way to aquaculture operations
By Matt Jones
Businesses could become collateral damage during times of conflict, as seen in Chile and Hong Kong
By Matt Jones
One doesn’t have to go very far back in time to realize that disruptions in business operations could happen anytime, be it due to natural disasters or man-made ones. Protests in Chile and Hong Kong have left businesses vulnerable.
Salmon processing plants in Chile became collateral damage in the civil unrest since October, fuelled by the population’s resentment against income inequality. Workers and supplies unable to reach salmon processing plants because of road blockades caused significant losses to the country’s aquaculture industry. Some media reports estimated the volume of decayed fish in processing plants at roughly 320 tons, not to mention the thousands of fish that waited to be fed at the height of the unrest.
While the plants have resumed activity since, it is reasonable to wonder if aquaculture operations in North America are ready with a plan should massive disruptions arise. After all, the industry is an easy target among environmental activists.
A large-scale civic protest and a protest directed specifically at an aquaculture company would adversely impact operations in varying degrees, but the experiences of companies that have been the subject of protests could nonetheless be informative.
In 2016, Cermaq’s operations in British Columbia were the target of weeks-long protests by activists, including members of a well-known international protest group, the Sea Shepherd Society. Cermaq accused protesters of trespassing and harassment of employees.
“We experienced protesters entering our sea sites and approaching our employees in a way they were not comfortable with,” says Cermaq Corporate Affairs Director Lise Bergan. “In such situations, our employees are instructed to be calm and respectful and move indoors at the barge if they do not feel safe, and of course, alert their managers as well as authorities.”
In the event of a protest, Bergan emphasizes support for employees, ensuring that they know they are safe and supported by the company.
“It is also important that employees are knowledgeable on the operations, and well-informed about the concerns and the performance so that they can be on top of the situation,” says Bergan.
Another company that has faced protests in the past is Mowi, which ended up suspending construction of a fish farm in Campbell River, British Columbia amidst protests driven by the Homalco First Nation in May 2019. A flotilla of protesters in at least 15 boats rallied at the proposed site. Representatives for Mowi did not provide comment for this article, but the then-Director of Community Relations and Public Affairs, Jeremy Dunn, said in a statement to media at that time that the company was attempting to engage in dialogue with the protesters.
“Mowi has engaged in constructive discussions with local First Nations and Electoral Area C about our Cyrus Rocks salmon farm over the past week, since concerns were first raised,” said Dunn in the statement. “It is through regular dialogue that we will continue to find the right balance.”
And perhaps, in that statement, there is a lesson for aquaculture companies as it relates to their relationships with the communities they inhabit. In the circumstances of a mass, sustained protest designed to disrupt business, perhaps supply chain lines will be impacted regardless. But, the actions of a business dictate whether residents feel that a company is truly a part of their community, or it is there simply to use the community’s resources. It follows logically those businesses that behave like a productive and respectful part of a community would be a less desirable target of protest.
Seeing how the disruptions in Chile have affected operations, companies could also perhaps do well to examine their supply chains, consider how their practices could be affected, and to determine what, if any, measures could be taken if their operations were disrupted by protests.
Jeremy Pressman, associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, believes that sustained mass protests in the United States are improbable, but not impossible. “The climate issue, if it continues to worsen, that’s one where I could imagine it stemming from,” he says.
As for civil unrest, Dana Fisher, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and author of “American Resistance,” believes that a large-scale, sustained protest is unlikely as long as citizens feel that they are able to participate normally in democracy. However, if there’s a sense that the system is failing, a more sustained and confrontational protest would be more likely. And in that case, protesters are likely to target the economic sector, including disrupting pipelines, train routes and roads.
“That’s just standard practice when you’re trying to be confrontational,” says Fisher. “We can completely imagine a time where frustrated people decide they want to go that route. If they do, they could definitely disrupt goods and services being transported around the United States.”
Which again begs the question: do aquaculture companies have a plan?