Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Perceptions of Seafood Sustainability

One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.
--Marshall McLuhan

This was the second conference I attended at the International Boston Seafood Show where it was mentioned how the media distorts the risks of seafood, though they were in different contexts. In the previous case, it was used in the case where the media emphasizes the minor risk of consuming seafood while failing to give proper coverage to all of the health benefits of seafood. In this conference, the media was alleged to be trying to tie in health risks into the sustainability issue, again greatly exaggerating any such risks.

I attended the What the Industry Experts Say: Perceptions of Sustainable Seafood Production and Marketing conference, which was presented by Wendy Weisman and Tracy Van Holt, who are working together on the SustainableCFood project. They conduct research, trying to determine significant communication gaps that exist in the topic of sustainable seafood. This conference was even part of their research, involving an anonymous survey and a discussion on sustainability issues. So, it was a very interactive session, and there were roughly 25 or so attendees.

Wendy Weisman

It is obvious that there are significant communication gaps in the discussion of sustainability. So many people define the term differently, often based on their own needs and experience. Trying to reach some sort of consensus on a definition is a worthy, though difficult, goal. In researching these issues, Wendy and Tracy engage in "cultural consensus analysis." Tracy stated that "shared knowledge equals culture," a reason why they have chosen a cultural consensus analysis.

That process is similar to the use of focus groups but it also allows each person's voice to be considered individually. The analysis seeks to determine the areas where people agree and disagree on these definitions and issues. They also engage in news analysis, determining what the media says on the topic, both the regular media and the trade.

You can take their survey online though I am unsure of the actual value of the survey. I found a number of the questions to be too vague or confusing so it seems the answers might not reflect true perceptions. It was clear from our discussion of answers to those questions that many people wanted to clarify their answers, that the answers were not as simple as the questions permitted. Instead, I believe the questions are much more useful in starting conversations about these issues. That seems to be a more valuable reason to present the questions rather than seeking the truth of any such question.

Tracy Van Holt 

The discussion moved onto an analysis of news articles dealing with sustainability. The regular media has created the allegation that sustainability in fisheries has a lot to do with important health issues. For example, they promote ideas such as wild seafood is safer for you than farmed seafood. They highlight mistrust and mislabeling, creating the impression that sustainability is unprofitable. The trade media though does not connect sustainability and health. Rather, they emphasize issues of transparency and trust, promoting that sustainability is profitable.

In further media research, they examined Seafood Source and learned that the dominant conversation concerning sustainable revolved around certification. It was also learned that this discussion was often separate from a discussion of fishers. On a related issue, they examined the question of who the media saw as responsible for creating and promoting sustainable fisheries and both the regular media and the trade were in agreement that Companies were most important.

There was an intriguing aside, analyzing the effectiveness of a logo. I thought that the Brunswick Catch logo was the most effective, and I ended up in agreement with their prior survey. What seemed to matter to the public was a logo with the name of the place, that showed a fishermen as well as his gear.

Trying to reach a consensus of sustainability definitions is a worthy and necessary endeavor so discussions in this area are warranted. It is also a glaring issue that media depictions of seafood are negatively slanted and that is an area where the seafood industry needs to take charge and present a more balanced view. That is also part of what I do, trying to present more balanced articles for the average reader. More people need to eat seafood and they should not be scared away from eating it due to the drastic exaggeration of any minor risks.

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