New research conducted by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), an international non-profit offering certification for socially and environmentally responsible seafood, finds that a majority of Swedish consumers are aware that 40% of the fish they buy is farmed, but fewer are aware of how to reconcile their concerns about the impact of farmed fish with their buying decisions.
“Our research shows that buying responsibly produced fish and seafood is important to Swedish shoppers,” says Barbara Janker, ASC Commercial Marketing Manager for Northern Europe. “Yet while consumers are aware of some of the problems that can occur with farmed fish, they are less sure how to make the best seafood choice.”
The survey targeted Swedes who buy or eat seafood on a regular basis, with 45% shopping for fish at least once a week and 52% at least once a month. The survey was conducted online in October and polled 500 respondents from around the country, equally divided between men and women, and across age groups.
Awareness of fish farming and its potential impacts
More than half of respondents (55%) indicated that they are aware that 40% of the fish and seafood they buy is farmed, and that farming is sometimes associated with negative environmental impacts, including poor outcomes for coastal areas and the seabed, unsustainably sourced feed and poor water and natural resource management. However, far fewer (14%) are familiar with the potentially negative human impacts of aquaculture, including human rights violations and sub-standard working conditions.
Heath concerns relating to the use of antibiotics in farming was the top concern for Swedish shoppers, with 64% of respondents saying that it’s very important that antibiotics are used responsibly.
Choosing seafood responsibly
Forty percent of the respondents agree that it is important to them that supermarkets sell responsibly farmed seafood — with 38% strongly agree. However, only 6% completely agrees with the statement that they eat less farmed fish because of the negative consequences of fish farming, with 46% answering that they “neither agree nor disagree.”
Shrimp, however, is giving Swedish shoppers pause. A majority (58%) of respondents say they don’t buy farmed shrimp because of what they consider the negative effects of shrimp farming.
“Here, ASC labeled products, including tropical shrimp, can offer a real advantage to Swedish home cooks who want to make good choices for the environment without sacrificing beloved international dishes, from paella to Asian curries,” says Janker.
A robust and independent third-party certification, such as the ASC, provides consumers the ability to choose seafood that has been raised to a high environmental and social standard. The ASC standard measures the environmental and social impact of farms on more than 100 indicators that directly address the concerns consumers commonly cite regarding farmed seafood.
Farms that achieve ASC certification must be able to pass an independent audit by showing that resources have been used responsibly, chemicals use has been restricted, no antibiotics critical to human health have been used, that fish are raised on sustainable feed and that specific steps have been taken to preserve the environment and coastal areas, including mangroves, and protect biodiversity, have been taken.
Farmers must also show that their employees are well-trained, paid a fair wage and have access to safe work places, that are free of discrimination, slavery and child labour. Producers must care for the local communities and take steps to work in harmony with those who live near farm sites. Only seafood from farmers that have met stringent criteria for social and environmental practices, and operate in a transparent manner, can carry the ASC logo.
When consumers can identify a sustainable choice, they choose it.
Consumer awareness of responsible options does offer hope of positive consumer action. Just under half of all respondents were familiar with the ASC logo, yet of those who recognized it, 40% say they buy ASC products as often as they can, with 56% shopping ASC certified products occasionally.
Awareness of the ASC logo, and that it signifies responsibly farmed seafood choices, was highest among women aged 30-44, and they were also the group that said they purchased ASC products most often.