"Humane aquaculture" could boost US seafood consumption, study finds

Published on
September 27, 2018

Humane production practices could have a huge impact on market expansion for farmed seafood in the United States, according to a new study from surveying firms Changing Tastes and Datassential.

Previewed this week in Ecuador at the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s annual GOAL conference, the study – titled “Humane Aquaculture: Opportunities on the Plate” – assesses the influence that humane production practices have on both American consumers and foodservice purchasers when it comes to buying seafood.  

Half of the American consumers and foodservice purchasing decision-makers polled for the study said they were more likely to buy fish and seafood that is humanely harvested, with more than half of the survey participants in both groups also subscribing to the belief that humanely produced fish and seafood is likely to be higher quality, taste better, and have better texture.

“Humane production practices may increase the attractiveness of farmed fish and seafood both to U.S. consumers and to the businesses that purchase it and offer or serve it to them,” said Arlin Wasserman of Changing Tastes in a statement detailing the study’s findings. “Increasing the attractiveness of farmed fish and seafood can create meaningful opportunities over the next several years.”

Farmed seafood, if positioned right, could become a viable replacement for beef on many American consumers’ plates, especially if an earlier study conducted by Changing Tastes pans out, the research firms said. According to that study, U.S. consumers were on-trend to reduce their beef consumption by 20 percent by 2025. 

Several recent studies from Datassential also show that more Americans are planning on reducing the amount of time red meat hits their plates.   

“In recent prior studies, we looked at how American consumers want to eat, and found that nearly one in five Americans intend to reduce the amount of red meat they eat and their top choice for replacing it is fish and seafood. They also prefer wild caught fish,” said Marie Molde of Datassential. “U.S. consumers’ main concerns about eating red meat, as well as poultry, are animal welfare and antibiotic use. US consumers now have the same concerns about eating fish and seafood, probably because of what they know about meat and poultry.”

The consciousness and concern surrounding live slaughter and antibiotic use for both wild-capture and farmed fish is on the rise among U.S. consumers and foodservice purchasers, the recent “Humane Aquaculture” study found. Yet, consumers still remain largely in the dark about other production practices such as stunning, transport, and clipping, researchers said. However, once consumers and foodservice operators were informed of such practices, their concern regarding humane treatment increased. 

Considering the above findings, aquaculture’s approach to humane slaughter could give it an edge over wild-caught seafood, according to Wasserman.

“Adopting humane practices in aquaculture and avoiding the use of antibiotics directly addresses consumer concerns about eating more fish and seafood. Humane slaughter practices may even make farmed fish and seafood more attractive than wild caught choices,” said Wasserman. “While adopting humane practices and eliminating antibiotic use can improve the US market for fish and seafood, not making improvements may pose a risk to the industry’s reputation and the appeal of farmed fish and seafood."

While around half of all surveyed foodservice decision-makers and consumers said they weren’t sure what practices the aquaculture and wild-capture industries were currently using, over a quarter believed that humane practices were in place and followed, according to the study. Researchers also found that 70 percent of consumers and decision-makers believed that popular rating and certification programs such as Seafood Watch, BAP, ASC, and GLOBALG.A.P. entailed some or all humane practices.

“Our study found that aquaculture industry currently benefits from lack of awareness among consumers and decision makers as well as a bit of a halo effect. Many consumers and decision makers believe that the aquaculture industry has already adopted humane practices and that sustainably certified and rated fish and seafood are produced using humane practices. But if consumers or menu and purchasing decision makers decide that’s not true, they may quickly change their tastes to favor other types of food,” said Wasserman. 

“It’s early days for the aquaculture industry and it can avoid many of the challenges that suppliers of other proteins have experienced. It’s also easier to invest in better practices in order to increase sales rather than respond to criticism and declines,” he added. 

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