Perceptions and misconceptions of aquaculture: a global overview

The rapid growth of intensive aquaculture production, in some cases not well planned, has caused concern about environmental impact, human health and social issues. The bulk of global aquaculture production is in Asia. Yet opposition to aquaculture development is strongest in the Western world, where modern aquaculture is still a relatively new industry competing with well-established activities. In addition, the increasing dependence of developed countries on farmed seafood imports from developing countries and insecurity regarding product environmental, social and safety credentials have attracted considerable negative media attention. Moreover, scientific uncertainties and conflicting information on seafood consumption have further confused the public.

With a growing world population, annual supply needed from the aquaculture sector must further surpass that from capture fisheries, reaching 62 percent in 2030, to maintain current consumption levels per capita. This presents tremendous challenges to the sector, to policy-makers and to the aquaculture community at large. Improving perceptions of the sector will be instrumental if the goal is to be achieved.

The report "Perceptions and misconceptions of aquaculture", produced by GLOBEFISH, consists of two parts: the first provides a global overview and synthesis of studies on perceptions of aquaculture in both developed and developing countries. Its aim is to better understand the main concerns of the public and diverse stakeholder groups. This information can serve the industry as the basis for arriving at recommendations for reducing uncertainty about its products and farming practices, enabling more-effective communication strategies. The second part provides specific recommendations for addressing the public concerns identified in the first part, and discusses the roles various key stakeholders can play in this process.

The findings show that – apart from objective knowledge – personal experience, preconceived ideas and the demographic and regional context strongly influence perceptions of aquaculture. The strongest consumer concerns regard the health and safety aspects of farmed products. Evidence is mixed on whether people perceive aquaculture as causing environmental and animal welfare problems, and it differs among countries and regions. Interestingly, when purchasing fish, the majority of consumers are not aware of the farmed or wild origin of the seafood they buy. This suggests that other factors, such as quality, price, taste and convenience, seem to play more-important roles, whereas sustainability aspects are only taken into account by a limited number of consumers. Overall, the public debate on aquaculture has focused mainly on risks, often lacking a balanced evaluation of costs and benefits.

To improve public awareness of aquaculture, the industry needs a more-open, broader dialogue that will increase transparency in the sector. If it is to communicate the benefits of aquaculture more effectively, it must collaborate more with other stakeholder groups viewed as credible by the public. Moreover, greater synergy and cooperation are needed among the various subsectors of aquaculture, so as to speak with one voice and achieve a greater political hearing. While important social and environmental issues are still to be addressed, it is important to put aquaculture in a wider perspective by comparing its costs and benefits with other animal production systems. To date, a holistic view – taking into account a balanced evaluation of aquaculture's risks and benefits – has been lacking, impeding the development of policies that reflect production realities.


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