Eat with a Porpoise: Measuring the Effectiveness of Seafood Certification & Rating System Programs to Inform a Vaquita-Friendly Seafood Market
The Upper Gulf of California (UGC), Mexico, is home to the most critically endangered marine mammal in the world, the vaquita. Due to both accidental entanglement in gillnets set for shrimp and other finfish, and the resurgences of an illegal fishery for totoaba, the species is in imminent danger of extinction. The fate of the vaquita lies in the cessation of illegal fishing, a permanent ban of all gillnets, the speedy development of alternative gear for legal fisheries, and a fisheries incentive program to encourage the adoption of new gear. This study explored the use of an eco-labeliong scheme as a means of raising awareness and support for future seafood products caught with gear that does not entangle vaquaita and minimized bycatch of other non-target species. The questions this study explored included: (1) Are consumer-facing seafood labels working? And (2) If so, can this market-based approach support a gillnet-free UGC? To answer these questions, a stated preference study was conducted with focus groups representing various demographics. The exercise revealed that a majority of the focus groups prefer to purchase seafood that is labeled with the following four attributes: U.S. caught or local, low bycatch, contains no additives, and rated by Seafood Watch as a “Green” (best choice) or “Yellow” (good alternative) product. The results suggest a demand for an eco-labeled gillnet-free UGC seafood product.