UMaine Survey: Outreach & Education Needed For U.S. Aquaculture Growth

Researchers at the University of Maine have identified some important findings from a survey of Americans’ perceptions and understanding about aquaculture.

As has been discussed on Farmed Seafood, while the United States consumes a lot of fish, it does not produce nearly as much, making it a net importer of seafood. The U.S. is 17th on the list of top aquaculture producing countries, yet the #1 importer of fish and fishery products in the world. For comparison, China represents 60% of global aquaculture production and is the #1 exporter of fish and fishery products.

In order to better understand how consumers in the U.S. view aquaculture, and use those findings to assist industry efforts, Caroline Noblet and Laura Rickard at UMaine developed and implemented a survey. It was administered by an international consulting firm and sent to a representative portion of Americans according to the U.S. census. Over 1200 responses were collected, and analysis has been completed.

“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.”

A finding that became clear almost immediately was the gap in consumers’ knowledge about aquaculture. A graduate student assisting with the project stated, “There’s a lot of uncertainty in how people feel about aquaculture and there is a lot of work left to be done.” Following this analysis, an undergraduate student compared responses across different demographics.

In general, researchers found relatively low industry awareness among U.S. consumers, which suggests public opinion may be altered with ongoing education and outreach efforts aimed at informing a collective understanding about aquaculture.

Respondents also generally were open to aquaculture and its expansion, as long as it did not interfere with other recreational opportunities – such as fishing and sightseeing – and expressed a desire to learn more though few actively sought information on aquaculture.

The researchers were encouraged by respondents’ openness to aquaculture and their respect for science. It was concluded that there is significant opportunity in a science-based communications effort for aquaculture. The team will conduct a Maine-specific survey this spring to further clarify attitudes and understandings within the state, where aquaculture is booming.

Read the full press release here.

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