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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI survey suggests eco-labeling will encouragesustainable fisheries management

KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 11, 2000 -- As more and more fisheries become depleted from over-harvesting, economists and scientists are studying ways to create incentives for managing fisheries in a sustainable way.

The results of a survey conducted by a University of Rhode Island researcher point to eco-labeling as a promising strategy for encouraging sustainable fisheries management. Eco-labels are labels placed on consumer products that provide information about the environmental attributes of the products.

In a survey of 1,640 U.S. residents, 70 percent said they would prefer to purchase seafood labeled to indicate that it came from an area which has not been over-fished, even if the price was higher than unlabeled seafood.

Cathy Wessels, professor and chairman of the URI Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, said that it is necessary to get the consumer involved in fisheries management by taking a market-based approach to the problem.

"If consumers have a preference for purchasing seafood from sustainable fisheries, then seafood companies may have an incentive to ensure that fisheries are managed in a sustainable way," said Wessels.

According to Wessels, the only reason seafood companies will practice sustainable fishing is if it will increase their market share, allow them to raise their prices, or ensure that they have an adequate supply of fish in the future. Her survey suggests eco-labeling will do just that.

Wessels' survey results varied slightly depending on the region of the country and the species involved. Coastal residents were more willing to buy labeled seafood than inland residents, perhaps because they are more familiar with the depletion of fish stocks in their area. And respondents were slightly more likely to buy labeled salmon than labeled shrimp or cod.

Survey respondents were also asked who they think is the most appropriate organization to certify fisheries. Most people preferred the government to be responsible for certifying fisheries rather than a third-party independent agency.

The other issue that will demand attention if eco-labeling is to succeed is consumer education. Fully two-thirds of respondents were uncertain about the status of Atlantic cod and Pacific salmon fisheries. Wessels said that if consumers don't know that these stocks are depleted, then they aren't likely to buy eco-labeled cod and salmon. "Consumer education about fisheries problems and what the label means will be a key to its success."

Wessels said that eco-labeling isn't a new concept. Dolphin-safe tuna is the only tuna available on store shelves now even cat food is dolphin-safe and eco-labeled wood products are becoming more common as well. In addition, there are already three fisheries that have been certified with an eco-label Thames River (England) herring, Western Australian rock lobster, and most recently, Alaskan salmon.

"Eco-labeling is a movement primarily driven by environmental groups and is designed to use the power of the consumer to push resource managers in a particular way," explained Wessels. "It's a movement that's growing and appears to be working because it allows consumers to feel good about their purchases and know they aren't degrading the ecosystem.

"My survey suggests that there is a potential market for eco-labeled seafood," Wessels said. "The real test, though, will be when labeled seafood gets in the market."

For Information: Cathy Wessels 874-4569, Todd McLeish 874-7892


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