Both parties recently collaborated on a survey aiming to understand US public perceptions of the aquaculture industry.
Preliminary survey results were released in March this year but the final 40-page report was published at the end of last month in time for GOAL’s conference in Vancouver. The overall finding was that there is a lack of real data on the aquaculture sector for consumers
The survey tracked responses from about 450 interviews to questions about aspects of the aquaculture industry including sustainability, country of origin and perceived differences between wild and farm-raised fish. Consumers were also allowed to expand on thoughts about raised fish, which highlighted concerns about what farmed fish eat.
Within the negative responses, several comments mentioned the feed used for farmed fish.
Concerns included the quality of the feed used and that antibiotics or feed additives could be used to increase fish growth and development or boost fish weight gain.
Other respondents raised the point that the farmed fish diet would not be the fish’s normal one. They were also concerned feed would be made with genetically modified products or that it would increase the mercury levels found in the fish.
Overall, about 47% of those surveyed had a negative view of farm raised seafood, while about 88% of consumers had a positive perception of wild seafood, group officials said in the survey report.
Matt Brooker, senior category manager at the Seattle based Fishin’ Company, told us: “We need to continue to address challenges of feed and environmental challenges. But, we need to take some time to understand the person who is buying the product and how they feel about it.”
Among the results, the groups found that the price of the product is the driving factor for the largest percentage — 81% — of consumers. In order, visual appeal, health benefits and sustainability were the next most important considerations.
“We all know that price is a big part of the decision, but a big take away was price still remains the most important decision making factor,” said Brooker. “There are consumers making decisions on sustainability or farmed versus wild [seafood], but a lot are still looking at price.”
Initial steps that can be taken to start to improve consumer understanding of farmed fish include making information easier to find online and improving the engagement with specific groups, said Brooker.
“We also need to do a better job of engaging people directly,” he added.
Speaking with chefs also may be a way to make information more available, because their views can influence consumers, he said.
“Another big thing is we need to come together as an industry with a solid message,” he said. “Often the consumer is getting mixed messages from different sources within the industry.”
The work needs to be considered at the pre-competitive level, he said. The progress the industry has been making in terms of the environmental effects from farmed fish and feed usage are topics that can be addressed by the whole industry.
Additionally, some of the misconceptions that consumers have about the industry stem from publicized accounts of past problems, Brooker said. “When we look at aquaculture today there’s so much progress that’s been made, it’s unfortunate they still see the industry as it existed a while ago.”