Aquaculture for all

Sustainability messaging can help convert aquaculture critics into supporters

Sustainability Consumer People +7 more

New research from the Aquarium of the Pacific found that when aquaculture critics learned about the industry’s sustainability potential from trusted sources, they were more likely to become supporters – they weren’t as swayed by economic messaging.

Harvesting skinny kelp off of Chebeague Island, Maine

The researchers found that aquaculture critics could be swayed when trusted sources discussed the environmental benefits of seafood and seaweed farming. © Yoon S Byun, WWF US

Sustainable seafood and seaweed farming are environmentally friendly alternatives to land-based food. But as many aqua industry stalwarts know, outdated narratives about harmful aquaculture and the public’s unfamiliarity with the industry have hindered social acceptance of the aquaculture industry in the United States.

A new study published by the Aquarium of the Pacific and collaborators from the School for the Environment at the University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Southern California Sea Grant Programme and the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University reveals how perceptions of seafood and seaweed farming can change in respondents and who they saw as the most trusted sources to deliver those messages.

“Our results suggest that sustainability themes, delivered by trusted sources, can convert naysayers regarding aquaculture into supporters,” said Dr Peter Kareiva, who is an environmental scientist, an author on this study and Aquarium of the Pacific president. The study focused on people residing in the Western and Northeastern coastal states of the US—stakeholders who would need to live with an expanded marine farming industry.

Economic benefits and provision of jobs were not the benefits that survey respondents found most persuasive. What changed minds was messages emphasising the environmental benefits of seafood and seaweed farming. These benefits include having a stable and well-managed, eco-friendly alternative to land-based foods and providing a sustainable alternative to wild fisheries. Altogether, this work suggests that communicating the potential environmental benefits of seafood farming expansion in the US has the potential to shift public perceptions.

Data also revealed that seafood farming received more favourable responses from surveyed individuals after watching Ocean to Table, a video series produced by the Aquarium of Pacific. This series highlights responsible US marine aquaculture or ocean farming. Over half of the respondents who began with a negative opinion of seafood farming shifted to a favourable opinion after watching one of these videos.

This study also asked respondents about what sources they most trusted when it came to aquaculture—scientists, seafood farmers and aquariums/museum ranked highest. The paper, “Are all benefits equal? An exploratory analysis of coastal perspectives of seafood farming expansion in the United States,” is now published in The Journal of the World Aquaculture Society. This study was funded by the University of Southern California Sea Grant Programme, World Wildlife Fund and California Sea Grant Programme.

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