PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A new study indicates that 70% of consumers polled would "prefer to purchase" eco-labeled seafood products -- even if it means paying more.
d processors to source from fisheries that adhere to practices that protect species populations.
"My survey suggests that there is a potential market for eco-labeled seafood," said Cathy Wessels, professor and chairperson of URI's Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics. "The real test, though, will be when labeled seafood gets in the market."
The survey results varied slightly depending on the region of the country and the species involved. Coastal residents were more willing to buy labeled seafood than inland residents, perhaps because they are more familiar with the depletion issue. And respondents were slightly more likely to buy labeled salmon than labeled shrimp or cod, the poll found.
Fully two-thirds of respondents were uncertain about the status of Atlantic cod and Pacific salmon fisheries. Wessels said that if consumers don't know that these stocks are depleted, then they aren't likely to buy eco-labeled species.
"Consumer education about fisheries problems and what the label means will be a key to its success," she said. "[Eco-labeling] is a movement that's growing and appears to be working because it allows consumers to feel good about their purchases and know they aren't degrading the ecosystem."
A market-based approach to the issue is the first step required to get the consumer involved in fisheries management, Wessels added.
"If consumers have a preference for purchasing seafood from sustainable fisheries, then seafood companies may have an incentive to ensure that fisheries are managed in a sustainable way," she said.
According to Wessels, the principal reason seafood companies would decide to practice sustainable fishing is if it will increase their market share, allow them to raise their prices, or ensure that they have an adequate supply of fish in the future.
Eco-labels, placed on consumer products to inform potential buyers about their environmental attributes, isn't a new concept. Dolphin-safe tuna is the only tuna available on store shelves today -- even cat food is dolphin-safe.
In addition, there are already three fisheries that have been certified with an eco-label from the Marine Stewardship Council, a London-based, non-profit agency devoted to the development of eco-labeling for seafood: Thames River (England) herring, Western Australian rock lobster and Alaskan salmon have all been certified by the MSC [see "Alaskan Salmon Approved for MSC's 'Fish Forever' Label," SN, Oct. 2, 2000].
Survey respondents were also asked who they think is the most appropriate organization to certify fisheries. Most people preferred the government to be responsible for certifying fisheries rather than a third-party independent agency.