Let’s talk about fish. Sustainable fish.
The scourge of industrial meat, and its horrific implications for animal welfare, environmental protection and human health, have been dissected and exposed for years for everyone to see. Although people still buy antibiotics-stuffed bacon and corn-fed beef out of convenience, habit or taste, noone by now has been sheltered from the public debate about grass-fed (or, even better, “pasture-raised”) v. CAFO meat.
The plight of the oceans’ residents, by contrast, has remained hidden from view. All of us have heard time and time again that 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline, and know about the damaging impact of pollution (especially mercury) and of warming temperatures on wild fish. But unless we’ve been touched by a personal close encounter in the wild or in a well-staged exhibit (the Monterey Bay Aquarium comes to mind), this general knowledge has had little ripple effect on our consuming habits.
In fact, if a recent consumer survey in the United Kingdom is any indication, 70 percent of shoppers claim that buying sustainable fish is important, but only 30 percent say that they are “actively” seeking sustainable fish—which translates into an unknown, yet assumed-to-be much lower score at the cash register.
Among the barriers to actively-seeking-sustainable-fish, habit weighs in for 24 percent, in equal amount to the price premium factor, according to “Attitudes and Behaviours around Sustainable Food Purchasing”, a report published this month by the U.K.’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
However, I was somewhat encouraged to learn that for almost one shopper in two, ignorance of the existence of certification labels for sustainable fish, and lack of availability at the local store, are the main barriers to purchase. On top of that, 84 percent of all respondents agree that retailers bear a big share of the responsibility, and should ensure that the fish they sell is from sustainable stocks.
If these stats accurately reflect reality, it means that not only better consumer education could make a difference, but that retailers and their suppliers may want to look at the budding market opportunity within their reach: certified sustainable fish that is loudly advertised as such.
Now, here is some good news: both governments and retailers are finally beginning to heed consumers’ sentiment.