Study: Consumer education key to growing US aquaculture

Liza Mayer
May 16, 2018
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There must be a general understanding and acceptance of farmed seafood by the public for the industry to grow, says study
There must be a general understanding and acceptance of farmed seafood by the public for the industry to grow, says study Getty Images
A nationwide survey conducted to better understand American consumer perception of aquaculture found that the growth of US aquaculture rests on consumer education and strategic outreach.

Globally, the marine aquaculture industry generates roughly $166 billion per year and is predicted to see steady growth for years to come, but the US, in contrast, lags in terms of production levels, said the study from the University of Maine.

It noted there is growing interest in the industry in cities and towns across the country, but there must be a general understanding and acceptance of farmed seafood by the public in order for the industry to grow.

With a better understanding of consumer decision-making and awareness, stakeholders would be better able to recognize the challenges and opportunities that the industry faces in terms of growth potential and visibility, suggested researchers at the University of Maine.

The survey, which generated more than 1,200 responses from across the country, found “numerous gaps in consumer knowledge about the industry.”

“Public opinion, as we know it, is somewhere in the middle,” says Ross Anthony, a graduate student in resource economics and policy at UMaine, who analyzed survey data. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in how people feel about aquaculture and there is a lot of work left to be done.”

Data also revealed a need for targeted efforts to address knowledge gaps in various demographic groups, including people who are older, have less education, and live in landlocked states.

Interest and engagement with aquaculture increases in communities with high rates of seafood consumption, the survey found. For instance, in Maine where the sea-to-table relationship is more pronounced, fish farmers can use this information to design impactful marketing campaigns and educational programs to increase consumer awareness.

Participants expressed a desire to learn more about aquaculture and seemed, for the most part, open to expansion within the industry, as long as it doesn’t affect other coastal recreation activities.

But few respondents indicated they had actively sought information about aquaculture or related technologies. Data suggested television advertisements, social media postings, and specially designed package labeling might be the best way to reach citizen consumers.

The findings also indicated consumers hold a positive view of scientists and scientific research, which suggests public outreach should be designed with a scientific lens in mind.

While there are many public discussions to be had about the risks and benefits of aquaculture, the research team was encouraged by the general open-mindedness suggested by the responses and believe the information can be used to steward resources toward ongoing research and community conversation.

“People are really on the fence because they don’t have enough information to make a solid opinion about it,” says Murray.

UMaine assistant professor of economics Caroline Noblet and assistant professor of risk communication Laura Rickard led the research team.

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