Attitudes of UK Consumers to Farmed Seafood18 February 2013
With aquaculture providing half of seafood eaten and the industry continuing to grow, research done by Emiko Phillips and Lyn Newton, University of West of England Bristol, found that the majority of consumers in the UK know little about aquaculture. The article was extracted from an undergraduate final year project report.
As the world’s population grows, so too does the demand
for seafood. However, production from capture
fisheries is finite, with the majority now assessed as
fully, or over, exploited. Demand for seafood has therefore
driven the rapid growth of the aquaculture industry.
Aquaculture (farming and husbandry of finfish and
other aquatic organisms such as crustaceans, molluscs
and aquatic plants) now provides approximately
half of the seafood eaten and is the fastest growing food
production sector worldwide.
Public and consumer acceptance of aquaculture will depend upon information, awareness and concern. The media plays an important role in shaping public opinion, and aquaculture has been criticised over various sustainability concerns, e.g.
- Environmental concerns associated with use of reduction fishery products in aquafeeds, habitat modifications, eutrophication, escapees, disease transfer to wild fish, chemotherapeutant discharges and antibiotic resistant bacteria;
- Animal welfare concerns associated with diseases and parasites, injuries, food deprivation; stress from poor water quality, transportation, handling, confinement, inappropriate stocking densities and harvesting;
- Human health concerns related to algal toxins and chemotherapeutant residues.
Government regulations and codes of practice have
been introduced to mitigate such concerns. Indeed, the
Scottish salmon industry is considered tightly regulated
by 10 statutory bodies, more than 60 pieces of legislation,
43 European directives, 3 European regulations
and 12 European Commission decisions (Seafish, 2011).
Eco-labels are increasingly being introduced to help consumers differentiate products that are more environmentally- friendly and socially-responsible. Within seafood, eco-labels have been introduced to encourage sustainable fishing practices for wild fish, e.g. the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label. Eco-labels are also being introduced for aquaculture products, e.g. Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Freedom Foods, Friend of the Sea and Global Aquaculture Alliance. This article describes a questionnaire survey aimed at determining the UK public’s purchasing behaviour for seafood and attitudes to aquaculture, which will be important to the acceptance and development of the industry.
A questionnaire of 11 questions was developed to gauge
the knowledge and behaviour of the UK public on the
purchasing of seafood and the aquaculture industry.
The survey was conducted ethically, with the questionnaire
being approved by the UWE RAGS system, and
all participants were informed of its use and remained
The questionnaire was deliberately kept short and simple, to make completion quick and easy and thereby avoid deterring participants. The first two demographic questions (education and age) were followed by eight questions on seafood purchasing habits and knowledge of aquaculture which simply required selection from categories. A final open question invited comments on aquaculture.
Questionnaires were distributed through friends, family, co-workers, at exercise classes, and via the social media website Facebook. Prospective participants could also respond through an on-line version (the SurveyMonkey website). Returned paper questionnaires were entered into SurveyMonkey for collation with the on-line responses.
A total of 145 UK residents responded to the survey between January and March 2012. Although no geographic information was collected, most of the respondents were located around Bristol and London. Participants’ were recorded in all age classes (18-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51- 60, 61-70, 71-80, ?81), although the youngest age group dominated (56%) and numbers declined markedly in the older age groups. Participants reflected all levels of education from “no qualifications” to “Doctorate”, with “Further Education” (25%) and “Undergraduate Degree” (41%) most prevalent. Responses to the eight categorical questions are tabulated.
The origin (wild or farmed) of seafood seemed of little concern to many participants. Half of the participants expressed no preference for wild-caught or farmed seafood, and the majority (77%) had no idea that nearly half the seafood we consume is farmed. Open comments included:
- “was surprised to learn how much seafood farming goes on”
- “either there isn’t a lot of information about it or I
- don’t take enough notice of what’s going on”
- “Do producers/supermarkets have to state on packaging that it is farmed”
These results and comments support previous assessments
indicating that aquaculture has a low public
profile (with many being oblivious to it) and that most
consumers have either a neutral or positive view of
aquaculture (FAO, 1999). A few people did comment
that wild-caught seafood sounds more attractive and
healthy and is “a natural product free from any chemicals
which may be used in fish farming.”
The majority (61%) of participants were aware that aquaculture had been associated with adverse sustainability issues. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of those respondents who preferentially selected farmed seafood, acknowledged these associations. Despite concerns about aquaculture, a high proportion (69%) agreed that aquaculture could help reduce fishing pressure on wild seafood stocks, and this idea was reiterated in the open comments. One participant did comment that aquaculture is “unsustainable, usually makes use of krill in the food supply for the farm, krill is often harvested from the seas, destabilising the ecosystem at a lower trophic level”.
A previous 2002 survey of the Scottish public’s attitudes to general environmental issues in Scotland (Hinds et al., 2002) indicated little concern for the impacts of fish farming: 66% of respondents were either not worried at all or not very worried. However, when asked in a more directed survey on attitudes to aquaculture in 2003 (Whitmarsh & Wattage, 2006), the Scottish public did indicate that minimising environmental damage was of high concern, receiving a majority vote of 39%.
No specific questions about the welfare of farmed fish were asked in the present survey. The Eurobarometer (2007) survey indicated that farmed fish welfare is of little concern to most EU citizens: only 8% responded that the current level of fish welfare needed to be improved. Nevertheless, recent market research (Solgaard & Yang, 2011) has shown a segment of Danish consumers (females, with higher levels of education and income) willing to pay extra for improved welfare conditions for farmed fish.
In the present survey, 26% of respondents never checked whether seafood purch ases came from a sustainable source, and only 14% always checked. Individual responses indicated that the regularity of checking increased as more seafood was purchased. A notable number of comments referred to a perceived lack of labelling for aquaculture products, e.g.
- “not enough information available to the public…Is there a certification for fish farming?”
- “I am not aware of any mark to indicate that farming or fishing is ethical. I would probably choose ethical sources over non-ethical if I was aware of any kitemark”
- “I have never seen commentary/detail regarding the source of the fish while in a restaurant”
This indicates general awareness of eco-labels, but a
lack of knowledge on the certification of seafood. One
respondent did however praise “Hugh’s Fish Fight
Most respondents (76%) had not heard of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label; this is similar to a previous 70% “unfamiliar” with the label recorded by Potts et al. (2011). However, 79% of the participants who were aware of the label did actively look for it when buying seafood, which provides some optimism for aquaculture eco-labels.
Governments and development agencies (national and international) generally view aquaculture in a good light: a means to increase food production, provide economic stability and supply jobs (FAO, 1999). This survey of UK consumers revealed that most were unfamiliar with the aquaculture industry and felt that little information on its sustainability is publicised. The majority of respondents were aware that aquaculture has been associated with sustainability concerns, but also thought that aquaculture could alleviate fishing pressure on wild stocks.