A blueprint for US aquaculture expansion?
New research indicates the US aquaculture industry needs to target strategic outreach and consumer education in order to achieve its growth potential.
Globally, the marine aquaculture industry generates roughly $166 billion per year, with steady growth predicted for years to come. However, the US lags in international markets in terms of production levels, and for the industry to grow, there must be a general understanding and acceptance of farmed marine foods by the public.
With that in mind, researchers from the University of Maine, led by assistant professor of economics Caroline Noblet and assistant professor of risk communication Laura Rickard, designed and implemented a nationally distributed survey to better understand US resident perceptions and knowledge of sustainable aquaculture.
The questions are pertinent to ongoing research at UMaine through the Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) and to answer longstanding questions posed by industry insiders and stakeholders.
“One of the things that there is a lot of curiosity about relates to how much people actually know about aquaculture,” Noblet says. “It’s been 20 or 30 years since the industry was first introduced here and things have really evolved. We wanted to take a closer look at that.”
The team also sought to learn which sources of scientific information the survey respondents used in making aquaculture decisions and what other factors might influence their opinions or habits regarding the industry.
“The industry is similarly interested in learning more about where consumers are getting their information about aquaculture,” says Noblet. “Is their information from the news media? From scientists? From the industry itself?”
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.
Noblet’s team contracted the GfK Group, an international consulting firm, to administer the survey. Recipients were selected to be representative of the US census, ensuring the results were based on specific demographic parameters and not a randomized sampling of individuals throughout the states.
The survey generated more than 1,200 responses from across the country and yielded several interesting — and exciting — results.
In general, researchers found relatively low industry awareness among US consumers, which suggests public opinion may be altered with ongoing education and outreach efforts aimed at informing a collective understanding about aquaculture.
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. For aquaculturists in Maine, where the sea-to-table relationship is more pronounced, this information could be used to design impactful marketing campaigns and educational programs to increase awareness and understanding in diverse communities.
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