Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs

Department

Marine Affairs

First Advisor

Tracey Dalton

Abstract

Eco-labeling is a communication tool that allows producers to demonstrate to consumers that they comply with a set of environmental and social criteria by placing an eco-label on their product. Since global aquaculture production is increasing and bivalve mollusks comprise a large share of the world aquaculture production, eco-labeling certification has been suggested as a tool for creating a market for products that are produced with minimal negative environmental and social impacts. Because eco-labeling certification programs for bivalve aquaculture are currently voluntary in the United States, producers’ opinions of these programs influence their current and future involvement in these programs.

Rhode Island (RI), where aquaculturists almost exclusively raise bivalves, provided a valuable case study for understanding aquaculturists’ opinions of eco-labeling certification programs for shellfish aquaculture. The primary objective of this study was to investigate RI bivalve mollusk aquaculturists’ perceptions of eco-labeling certification programs to explore the potential role of eco-labeling in RI aquaculture. To meet this objective, the study focused on four research areas to 1.) gather basic characteristics of RI aquaculture producers, farms and products; 2.) learn if RI aquaculturists participate or plan to participate in eco-labeling programs, and their perceptions of eco-labeling; 3.) discover perceived incentives and disincentives for participation in eco-labeling programs; and 4.) understand how RI aquaculturists feel about government regulations of aquaculture. To explore these research areas, the researcher interviewed twelve RI aquaculturists, in which participants were asked a combination of open- and closed-ended questions. Data in this study was summarized by descriptive statistics and open-ended questions were coded by themes that emerged.

Results showed that while nearly all respondents support eco-labeling programs, none of the respondents currently participate in eco-labeling certification programs, and only one aquaculturist plans to seek eco-labeling certification within the next five to ten years. This study found that most aquaculturists were unaware of the eco-labeling programs available for aquaculture and unsure about how they would choose between certification programs. Most aquaculturists would be more likely to certify their products with an eco-label if their competitors sought certification and most aquaculturists would be more likely to seek certification if they were involved in developing the certification standards. Obtaining a price premium from certification was the strongest incentive for participation in eco-labeling programs, while certification costs and additional recordkeeping required for certification were identified as the strongest disincentives. Management recommendations were provided for eco-labeling certification programs, aquaculturists, academics, and government regulators, as well as recommendations for future studies.

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