The cost of more ‘sustainable’ farmed salmon: will people pay?

Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture, like this project in the Bay of Fundy growing mussels around salmon farms, is proving to be a success.

People are willing to pay more for salmon raised in the ocean in multi-species farms, but not for salmon grown on land in tanks, suggests research earlier this year by an SFU student.

SFU Masters student Winnie Yip polled thousands of people to gauge what they are looking for in grocery store salmon, and how much more they are willing to pay for farming practices and certifications perceived to be more sustainable.

The results of her thesis work, titled “Assessing the willingness to pay in the Pacific Northwest for salmon produced by Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture,” are fascinating. She found that:

People are willing to pay 9.8% more for salmon farmed in an integrated multitrophic system.

People are only willing to pay 3.9% more for salmon farmed in a closed-containment system.

44.3% of respondents preferred the adoption of integrated multitrophic aquaculture to conventional salmon farming.

Only 16.3% of respondents preferred the adoption of closed-containment aquaculture to conventional salmon farming.

The survey was done by a market research firm and concentrated on people in the Seattle, Portland and San Francisco areas, the main market for BC salmon farmers.

The polling firm contacted 4,653 people but whittled results down to responses from 1,712 respondents to get a fair and accurate picture of their responses.

We found it very interesting how much support there is for integrated multitrophic systems in the ocean, despite all the work done in recent years by environmental groups to convince people that on-land closed-containment systems are the only way to go. This is encouraging and seems to show that people understand that the ocean is the best place to farm fish.

And a multitrophic approach could be a big part of the future of ocean farming. An integrated multitrophic system is where several species are grown together in the ocean; for example, a conventional style salmon farm surrounded by shellfish ropes, which would feed on the fish waste, as well as kelp, which also uses fish waste to grow. The salmon, shellfish and kelp can all be harvested and sold, and the system can have a smaller impact on the environment than a conventional finfish system.

We’ve talked about this topic before, and see a lot of potential for BC salmon farmers to experiment with multitrophic aquaculture systems. A small-scale project near Kyuquot run by UVic’s Stephen Cross shows a lot of promise, and has been around for several years.

There are some concerns with growing shellfish next to fish (there are fish health issues to consider, such as pathogens that can be passed between shellfish and finfish and how to mitigate that), but given that people are willing to pay a premium for fish grown in such systems, it’s worth serious consideration.

Business and number-minded readers, especially those involved in salmon farming, should really take a look at Yip’s full thesis document. It is full of interesting information, including how much more per pound different kinds of customers would be willing to pay; what they are looking for in the grocery store; and peoples’ attitudes towards salmon farming and farming technologies.

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