New research conducted by Stormline has found that two thirds of people who eat fish at least twice per month don’t bother reading the label, despite saying they are concerned about sustainability, origin and capture method. Of the one in three that regularly read the label, 91 percent said they found the information confusing and that it didn’t always allay their fears. Fish eaters also have a preference for certain fish-farming nations, although we feel that may be down to education and media influence.
Western Preference for Farmed Fish
Fish fans showed a preference for industrialised Western nations when it came to picking the ideal aquaculture provider. When asked which nation’s farmed fish they trusted most, the top five results were either European, North American or Australasian.
The most trusted providers of farmed fish were;
- New Zealand
- United States of America
- United Kingdom
Sustainability is the biggest influencer on almost a third (31%) of fish lovers. Country of origin is the next biggest influencer, being the top criteria for 29 percent of fish eaters. Almost two in five (18%) say environmental impact is their key driver, while freshness and capture method also influence people’s decisions, but to a lesser degree.
What’s wrong with fish labels?
The labels on fish bought in shops typically contain the commercial name of the fish, the method of production – namely whether it was caught at sea, inland or was farmed – and origin or catch area. Some packaging contains information on sustainability and sourcing, but this is not compulsory.
Despite this detail, the majority of those that regularly read the label find it doesn’t provide the full picture. Of the seven in 10 who don’t regularly read the label, almost all said they didn’t know if they were eating farmed or wild-caught fish.
Two thirds (64%) said they’d eat more fish if it was easier to know more about its origins and method of capture.
Top concerns of regular fish eaters (aside from taste and flavour)
- Sustainability of stock – 31 percent
- Country or region of origin – 19 percent
- Environmental impact – 18 percent
- Time of catch (freshness) 13 percent
- Capture method – 11 percent
- Other concerns – 8 percent
When it came to farmed fish, the main concerns among fish buyers were;
- Fish health
- Habitat (overcrowding, parasites)
- Use of antibiotics in farms
- Environmental impact of farm
Issues around food labelling and provenance of ingredients have shaken consumer confidence in recent years; the horse meat scandal being one prominent example. Unclear labelling and so-called ‘fish fraud’ has contributed to a lack of trust in some seafood markets too.
A study conducted at the University of Oviedo in Spain in 2015 revealed that more than 30% hake-based products sold in Greece and Spain were actually cheaper substitutes sourced in Africa. The Food Safety Authority in Ireland found that nearly 20% of fish was incorrectly labelled.
Regan McMillan, Director of Stormline said:
“70 percent of our planet is ocean yet seafood and fish make up only 2% of the world’s food supply. On a global scale, almost 3 billion people rely on fish for animal protein and that demand is increasing, so the need for aquaculture as a compliment to fishing is obvious. But if consumers can’t buy with confidence and make choices based on their ethical concerns, we’re missing a big opportunity to keep fish as a sustainable and healthy source of food for billions around the world.”