The University of Maine, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service are collaborating to find out how harvesters are direct marketing their product in the United States.
This survey was created with the intent of highlighting the socioeconomic contributions seafood harvesters make to the nation’s regional food systems.
“Part of the challenge is that seafood is an important part of the food chain, but not much information has been collected on how that product gets to local and regional markets,” said Joshua Stoll, Assistant Professor of Marine Policy at the University if Maine.
“So, this survey is funded by USDA and the National Marine Fisheries Service with the first ever attempt at filling that gap.”
In doing this survey, a consensus on what direct marketing is had to be defined when it came to supplying seafood. In their research, the team has identified five main forms of direct marketing — direct to consumer, direct to retailers, direct to restaurants, selling to institutional buyers and direct to distributors.
Direct to consumer marketing includes activities like selling one’s catch at the wharf, roadside markets and farmers’ markets. Selling to retailers can range anywhere from grocery stores to fish mongers to online retailers. Institutional buyers include hospitals, food banks and schools.
“You might have this vision of going down to the dock and meeting a fisherman and buying straight off the boat,” said Stoll. “That is part of it, but we know that with advances in technology and improved logistic systems, there’s some really innovative and entrepreneurial ways that seafood is being distributed.”
Stoll and his team began to look at the role harvesters can play in the food system in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted insufficiencies in the food supply chain. A proposed solution to this has been diversifying the ways that food hits the consumer market. Stoll says that in the future, harvesters have the potential to play a larger role in the U.S. national food strategy and that the results of this survey could help legislators find out how to enable them to create a more resilient supply chain to their prospective regions.
“Not only is seafood an important part of our national food system, but the seafood harvesters play this really key role in delivering product to the public,” said Stoll. “While any one transaction might be fairly small, our hypothesis is that this would probably add up to a sector that’s worth paying attention to and investing in as part of the strategy for building resilience into the seafood sector.”
While this survey is still in its early stages, with phase one being set to go into peer review in the near future, it’s already highlighted some interesting findings that Stoll’s colleagues at the University of British Columbia wish to recreate in the Canadian seafood market. Stoll anticipates the U.S.-based survey to be completed in the fall or winter of 2023.