Consumers still have a negative perception of farmed fish, compared to wild fish, including its sustainability.
Understanding how consumers perceive sustainability is essential to building an effective strategy to encourage sustainable fish consumption.
Researchers from the Institute for Agro-Food Research and Technology (IRTA), the Université Bourgogne, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), and the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari (CIHEAM), evaluated the beliefs of European consumers about farmed fish compared to wild fish regarding the main pillars of sustainability, and identify and profile consumer segments with similar beliefs about fish sustainability.
The researchers surveyed 2,145 consumers from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain to inquire about consumer beliefs about the main pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and economic) when comparing farmed and wild fish.
Fish from the most sustainable aquaculture
“European consumers considered farmed fish to be more sustainable, sourced more locally, provided more environmental benefits, generated more employment, further improved human living conditions, generated more rural development, and ensured fairer fish prices than raw fish. wild,” they report.
They also highlight that consumers perceived that wild fish better ensure animal welfare, that they are more organic, but that they cause more environmental damage than farmed fish.
Looking closely at the beliefs of survey participants from different countries, the researchers report significant differences in 16 of the 19 beliefs.
“Looking at overall sustainability, farmed fish was perceived as more sustainable across all countries, although French respondents scored more neutrally,” they report.
“Regarding animal welfare, participants from all countries believed that wild fish had higher welfare, although this belief was lower for Poles.”
It is important to note that the results of the study contradict previous studies where aquaculture was criticized for its negative environmental impacts.
“In general, European consumers believe that farmed fish causes less environmental damage, is less polluting, and provides more environmental benefits. Considering the growing importance of environmental issues among consumers, this better perception could be used in favor of aquaculture when its benefits are communicated to citizens”, they highlight.
Segments of fish consumers
The study made it possible to identify four segments of consumers according to consumer beliefs: ambivalent, pro-aquaculture, pro-wild fish and impartial.
- Ambivalent: they have positive views of fishing and aquaculture. It brings together younger participants with a higher perceived economic situation, from urban and coastal areas, who consider both farmed and wild fish sustainable. More Germans and Poles, followed by Spaniards, participated in this segment.
- Pro-aquaculture: Groups the older respondents, together with the “pro-wild fish” segment. Along with the “unbiased” segment, they perceived the sustainability of wild fish as lower compared to the other two segments. More Italian and Spanish participants participated in this segment, but also more men.
- Pro-wild fish: They perceive the sustainability of farmed fish as lower compared to the other segments. More French participants and more women belong to this segment.
- Impartial: It brought together more French and Polish participants, but it did not stand out for any other sociodemographic or economic characteristics.
Aquaculture fish promotion strategy
According to the researchers, to effectively communicate the sustainability of aquaculture it would be better to focus on individual aspects of sustainability (beliefs) rather than on the whole concept of sustainability.
They also describe that considering that predisposition is essential to acquire knowledge and influence people’s behavior, the indifference of consumers towards the sustainability of fishing is a difficult task to address.
“In any case, participants in the fair segment seem less likely to buy sustainable seafood. Therefore, communication campaigns to promote the sustainable consumption of fish should not emphasize its sustainable nature if the objective is the impartial segment”, they recommend.
“The results obtained can be useful to provide each segment with personalized marketing strategies to stimulate the consumption of farmed fish and improve the general image of the aquaculture sector to encourage its full development in Europe,” they conclude.
They further state that in order to build an effective strategy to communicate sustainable aquaculture to citizens, it is crucial to know which particular aspects are perceived negatively in order to address them during promotional campaigns instead of focusing on the whole concept of sustainability.
Food Quality and Technology
Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA)
Finca Camps i Armet, s/n, 17121, Monells, Spain
Reference (open access):
López-Mas, L., Claret, A., Arvisenet, G. et al. European consumers’ beliefs about the main pillars of the sustainability: a comparison between wild and farmed fish. Aquacult Int (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10499-023-01070-2