‘Sustainable’ Fish Consumption: A Psychological and Socioeconomic Model
The consumption of fishes is one of the leading causes of marine ecosystem degradation. Humans have fished some species to collapse and extinction, while other fish populations have become so depleted that they are considered un-fishable without risk of species’ disappearing. At the same time, fish sentience is still debated among some scientific circles, playing into old stereotypes that fishes may not even feel pain.
In this study, researchers created a hypothetical “seafood consumption model” that outlines the various factors that impact consumer choices regarding eating fishes. Their aim was to better understand consumer habits in order to influence consumers into purchasing more “sustainable” options. To do so, they looked at eight different factors that influence fish consumption: intentions, attitudes, social norms, trust, knowledge, habits, as well as situational and socioeconomic conditions. Using these factors, they created a model that identifies how these factors influence each other. Using that model, they hoped to change consumer choices, encouraging them to purchase fishes which has been labeled “sustainable.”
Importantly, the authors noted that although reducing the overall consumption of fishes would be ideal, the various economic dependencies and current social norms regarding “seafood” make reducing consumption quite difficult. Instead, they took a simpler approach, working to switch consumers over to “sustainable” options.
All of that notwithstanding, their model was set up to demonstrate how each variable may be impacted by the others. Knowledge influences a consumer’s attitude and trust of labels. Social norms impact attitudes and intentions towards consumption. And the consumer’s trust of labels also influences intentions. All of these factors combine with consumer habits, socioeconomic conditions, and situational circumstances to guide “sustainable” consumption. Though the authors note that overall, the concept of a model of “sustainable seafood” is “fuzzy” they still see value in this as a contribution to overall research on “sustainable marine resource use.” The authors note that current social norms hold fishes to be both healthier and more sustainable to consume than farmed animals. In addition, two types of knowledge are needed for consumers to make better choices: behavioral and background knowledge. As a final note, the authors conclude that depending on socioeconomic factors and situational circumstances different approaches will be needed for different areas.
For animal advocates, the study offers an interesting model to better understand how we can mitigate the seemingly unrelenting demand for fish. However, the true test of this model will be to actually apply it to experimental groups with real labels and purchasing outcomes. In the meantime, the model remains promising, but ultimately theoretical.