URI survey suggests eco-labeling will encouragesustainable
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
"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
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