Two years ago, during the spring of my sophomore year, I traveled abroad to The Island School in Eleuthera Bahamas to study sustainable living and take part in marine research. I was part of a research team there that investigated sustainable alternatives to standard aquaculture practices. More importantly, this research prompted me to learn more about aquaculture and global fisheries. I quickly realized that fishery depletion is an enormous issue we are currently facing and solutions to this problem must be sought out in order to be able to sustain our fish stocks and meet the rising demand in seafood. Thus, last spring I decided to apply to the Global Thesis program with the intention of studying fishery depletion and sustainable aquaculture. The purpose of this thesis, and the aspect that was most important to me, was to raise awareness about this under-credited crisis and ultimately sway people to make more informed decisions when purchasing seafood.
As I began researching this fall I discovered that these two topics are too vast to take on together and it was imperative that I narrow my topic. I began by researching sustainable aquaculture. I contacted Dr. Daniel Benetti, a professor and the director of Aquaculture at the University of Miami, who is currently creating an entirely new sector of aquaculture called “the Blue Revolution” which is creating new, entirely sustainable aquaculture models. He gave me several articles as well as directed me towards other scientists and articles that might help me. On top of researching sustainable aquaculture models I tried to become well versed in everything pertaining to fishery depletion, in order to ultimately determine what is the greatest pressure causing depletion and, in turn, how sustainable aquaculture could alleviate this pressure.
In January I presented to a panel of peers and faculty my studies and research thus far, and while I was pleased with the direction my studies were going my topic was still too broad. In order to write an effective thesis I had to narrow down this vast issue, thus I decided to create and send out a survey and let the results help narrow my topic for me. My survey turned out to be very telling and extremely helpful. Over 300 people ended up taking this survey and the results were shocking at times. This survey displayed the disconnect between consumer awareness and the actualities of the seafood industry. 87% of surveyors said they would be less inclined to buy Bluefin Tuna if it were marked with its level of exploitation. This figure as well as other results demonstrated the lack of awareness concerning fishery depletion and the importance of informing consumers about the urgency of this crisis.
The results of this survey reminded me that my original intention with this thesis was to raise awareness and encourage conscious consumerism; moreover I decided to narrow my topic in such a way that I could still accomplish this goal. In my final paper, I am focusing on one aspect of fishery depletion, fisheries mismanagement. Mismanagement is caused by rising consumer demand and the need for higher yields despite the scarcity of fish stocks. The most effective way of relieving mismanagement is through the consumer. If consumers do not demand exploited seafood then fisheries will not be obliged to provide exploited seafood. That is where the relief part of my paper plays a role. Even after all of my research pertaining to sustainable aquaculture, I am choosing to shift my focus towards another form of relief. My survey proved that consumers would change their habits if information were available. Thus the relief tactic I will write about in my paper is called “Eco-labeling” where all the seafood available will be categorized by their level of exploitation and then labeled in the markets.
My final paper is broken into three main parts, fishery mismanagement (the pressure), informed consumerism through eco-labeling (the relief), and lastly in order to incorporate my sustainable aquaculture research the third part will focus on the future fisheries and possible sustainable directions. I look forward to both culminating all my research into this final thesis, as well as raising awareness about this topic within our local community this spring.