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UMaine to conduct first national assessment of seafood marketing practices

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By Milthon Lujan

by The University of Maine
The University of Maine, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and NOAA Fisheries, is launching the first-ever national assessment of seafood marketing practices in the United States. The American Seafood Harvesters Marketing Practices Survey aims to bring attention to the role that seafood harvesters play in the nation’s food systems and, eventually, inform future investments in the sector.

The survey being released in March 2023 is designed for any seafood harvester or business in the U.S. that participates in a state or federal commercial fishery and sells at least a portion of their catch directly to consumers, restaurants or institutions, or sells to dealers who identify them as the harvester. The survey, which is being mailed to 6,600 harvesters, follows an initial round of research that was conducted in 2021 and showed that 11% of all seafood harvesters in the United States directly market their catch.

While the commercial fishing sector in the U.S. is critically important to the economy, food security and cultural identity of many coastal communities, seafood often remains poorly integrated into efforts to strengthen local and domestic food systems. One reason for this is that, in contrast to the agricultural sector, there isn’t data on how seafood harvesters market their catch and therefore it is an invisible part of the food system.

“We often talk about how important data are for fisheries conservation and management. Data are also important for describing our nation’s food systems and ensuring that seafood is part of the discussion,” says Joshua Stoll, UMaine assistant professor of marine policy and principal investigator of the study.

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The USDA has been collecting data about where farmers sell their harvest since 1976 through the Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act. These data have helped to inform USDA’s investment in local and regional food systems, including in the allocation of $133 million to small- and mid-sized farming operations in FY23 through the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program.

Data from the American Seafood Harvesters Marketing Practices Survey will help bring visibility to the scale and diversity of direct marketing practices and, in the future, may inform future investments, help develop targeted technical support and identify impacts of new regulations on the commercial seafood sector in the United States. Additionally, collecting data will help inform fishermen, researchers and policy-makers about the state of direct marketing efforts and the characteristics of those consumers and marketers.

“This work helps unpack the different pathways seafood takes from our oceans to the final consumer. Understanding these pathways document the benefits to the nation of U.S. fisheries in terms of food production and food security and contribute to the NOAA National Seafood Strategy. This project also leverages strengths of the three organizations: USDA’s valuable experience in alternative marketing practices survey work; University of Maine’s, through their Local Catch Network, contacts and continued engagement with local fishing businesses around the country; and NOAA Fisheries’ understanding of fisheries and seafood data,” says Sarah Shoffler, one of the NOAA Fisheries leads on the survey project.

The survey period will be open from March to June 2023. Eligible entities will receive a postcard in the mail informing them about the survey, and will also receive a survey form with an individual ID and a link to access the survey online.

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If there are entities that didn’t receive a postcard but believe they should have, contact Advani at sahir.advani@maine.edu.

A webinar providing information about the aims and structure of the survey is being organized on March 29, 2023 at 12 PM ET (9 AM PT). The preregistration link for the webinar is: bit.ly/Webinar-Seafood-Survey

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