Research on Public Perceptions of Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management: In Brief

A core aspect of EcoScope’s research aimed to understand public perceptions, preferences, and values regarding Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM).

Three key questions were addressed: fish consumption and food security, public perceptions of fishery impacts and policy expectations, and the impact of EBFM on societal well-being.

The study used advanced techniques, including a discrete choice experiment and a survey-based video experiment, and surveyed over 500 respondents each from the UK, Bulgaria, and Malta. Data was collected online from over 500 respondents in each country, ensuring a diverse range of educational backgrounds.

United Kingdom
Bulgaria
Malta

The full report is now available to all EcoScope partners. A few of the research findings are highlighted below:

EcoScope Survey

Survey Findings

In all three countries, the majority of people:

Eat fish at least once a week.
Are willing to pay extra for fish labelled “sustainable stock” or “protects marine life”.
Favour regulation for better management of fisheries.
Have never heard of Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM).

Fish Consumption Habits

The vast majority of people eat fish and fishery products very regularly. Indeed the majority of people surveyed eat fish (or fishery products) at least once a week, at home. Older respondents tend to eat fish and fishery products (at home) more regularly than others while younger respondents eat fish more frequently outside the home.

Among the small minority who rarely/never eat fish or fishery products, sensory issues (sight/taste/smell) and are the main deterrents, followed by vegan/vegetarianism. Among those who buy fish or fishery products regularly, the main considerations are the appearance of the product and price.

There is also positive association between food scarcity concern and consumption of fish and fishery products. Concerns about food scarcity occur among a non-trivial portion of households. They tend to occur more frequently among younger households, low-income households, among household with more children and among those who also face job-security concerns.

Fish and fishery products can be a relatively cheap source of protein and individuals reporting a higher frequency of food scarcity concern (affordability or availability) tend to eat fish or fishery products more frequently than others.

EcoScope Survey

Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) Awareness

People do not know about EBFM per se, but they are willing to pay a premium for fish caught in such fisheries. In all contexts surveyed, only a very small minority of people have heard about EBFM and even fewer knew what it meant. Nonetheless, in general, people demonstrated a willingness to pay a premium for fish that carries labels which signal EBFM attributes choosing a (more expensive) labelled fish over an unlabelled one 4 times out of 5 in hypothetical shopping scenarios. They are willing to pay extra for a label stating that the fishery maintained a sustainable fish stock, for a label that declared that the fishery protected other marine life, or for a label that states that the fishery had a low carbon footprint. They are also willing to pay (albeit to a lesser extent) for a label that signals that the fishery practised inclusive management. The label which attracts the highest premium is that which declares that the fishery “Protects marine life”.

EcoScope Survey
Perception of Fisheries

People perceive fisheries as having both positive and negative impacts. In general, Europeans surveyed tend to perceive a negative effect of fisheries on fish stocks and other marine life. However the impacts of fisheries on coastal communities and the economy are seen in a more positive light. The public is unsure about the climate impacts of fisheries. In general, trust in government and pro-growth attitudes align with positive perceptions of the fisheries industry. However perceptions to not correlate with any demographic indicators consistently across the samples.

Views on Fisheries Policy

The public supports the use of tax-payer money for pro-environmental fisheries management. There exists vast societal support for fisheries interventions linked to safeguarding of stocks and the protection of marine life. Policies aimed at reducing fish discards receive particularly strong support. There is a tendency to prefer actions that target environmental impacts over those that target economic/social impact of fisheries.The strongest predictor of support is pro-environmental sentiment. Europeans who are concerned about climate change favour interventions aimed at curtailing the climatic impact of fisheries more strongly.

EcoScope Survey

People are also willing to cooperate in fisheries management. The majority of those interviewed stated they would be willing to report illegal activity on the coast using a digital app. Among some communities (e.g. small island), anonymity in reporting would enhance cooperation significantly. People are also willing to donate money to support Voluntary Organisations working for EBFM-related goals. There is considerable variation in the amount people are willing to donate and considerable variation among the three countries surveyed as to the percentage of people that would be willing to donate. In all instances, however, the strongest predictor of cooperation is pro-environmental sentiment.

EcoScope Survey

Marine Ecosystem Services and Wellbeing

Wellbeing responds to exposure to Marine Ecosystems Services (MES). The data reveals that exposure to MES varies considerably in the diverse contexts surveyed. Emotions during recent visits to the sea are more positive than average. Moreoever, positive relationships are observed between life satisfaction/happiness and respondent exposure to tangible marine ecosystems services (consumption of fish), intangible services (such as visits to the sea) and indirect marine ecosystems services (such as knowledge), even though the direct effects of MES on wellbeing are small relative to those of key determinants like relative income, health and lifestyle. Information about the harmful impacts of fisheries – and their management - causes significantly higher negative emotions and suppresses positive emotions.

Summary

The combined insights from the Ecoscope large-scale societal surveys suggest that fish and fisheries products occupy an important space in the diets of the Europeans interviewed, including of those with food scarcity concerns, and that exposure to both this (tangible) marine ecosystem service as well as other less tangible or indirect Marine Ecosystems Services are associated with higher levels of wellbeing.

While the term “Ecosystems Based Fisheries Management” (EBFM) holds little resonance among Europeans (including native English speakers), there is societal support for policies which promote this in substance. This is evidenced by people’s willingess to support the use of tax payer money for various forms of fishery regulation, their willingess to cooperate by voluntary reporting of illegal coastal activity and their willingess to donate some money to causes that promote EBFM. It is also evidenced by people’s behaviour in hypothetical markets: as consumers, they are willing to pay more for fish which carries attributes assocated with EBFM.

These findings cut across the three different contexts surveyed, but there is much to suggest that societal preferences are heterogenous (even within each country sample) and that the acceptance or otherwise of fisheries policies can vary among and within populations.