New Social Science Initiative to Study "Direct" Seafood


Barbara Walker
UC Santa Barbara

Carrie Pomeroy
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
UC San Diego


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March 22, 2012

By selling directly to the public, fishermen can teach consumers about seafood, how to prepare it and how it was caught. B. Walker/UCSB

March 22, 2012

Contact: Christina S. Johnson,, 858-822-5334

SANTA BARBARA – The "locavore" movement is helping America's farmers. Could it also help our fishermen?

A new study, selected by the West Coast Sea Grant programs, will look at whether new business models stand to benefit the region's fishing communities.

The emphasis will be on developing a toolkit to help fishermen in Washington, Oregon and California learn about direct marketing and identify approaches that might be the most appropriate for the local fisheries and consumer base.

“With the Sea Grant award, we will be able to systematically investigate the upsides and downsides of direct marketing of seafood and tailor the results specifically to West Coast fisheries and fishing communities,” says the project’s lead investigator, Barbara Walker, a cultural geographer and director of Research Development for the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Fine Arts at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "There are a lot of successes with community-supported fisheries and, on the other side, there are programs that are struggling."

Based on the community-supported agriculture model, a community-supported fishery is a program that connects local fishermen to a local market. CSF members buy shares in a fishery in exchange for weekly or bi-weekly deliveries of locally caught, premium seafood. In other direct marketing arrangements, fishermen may sell catches to the public directly off their boats, at farmers markets or through pre-arranged deals with restaurants.

"Many West Coast fishing communities are considering direct marketing strategies because there are a lot of perceived benefits," says co-investigator Caroline Pomeroy, a California Sea Grant Advisor. "We want to objectively evaluate the actual benefits and costs, and what it takes for such programs to succeed. Our goal, ultimately, is to provide fishermen and fishing communities with scientifically sound information they can use to make decisions that give them the best possible chance of success.”

California Sea Grant Advisor Carolynn Culver and Kimberly Selkoe, a researcher at the Marine Science Institute, UC Santa Barbara, are also co-investigators on the two-year project, which is being funded as part of a $1-million West Coast Sea Grant social sciences research initiative, supported by NOAA Sea Grant and its partners. Washington, Oregon, North Carolina and South Carolina Sea Grant programs are collaborators on the project.

Off-the-boat sales of seafood is a popular direct marketing strategy. B. Walker/UCSB

Later this month, the research team will begin conducting case studies of direct marketing programs on the East Coast, where many of the more established community-supported fishery programs began, and on the West Coast, where, in general, direct marketing of seafood is a newer concept.

"A lot of fishermen are having to fish smarter not harder to survive," says Amber Von Harten, a fisheries outreach specialist at South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium and a collaborator on the project. "At the same time, direct marketing is not for every fisherman."

"The case studies will focus on identifying the opportunities and challenges of establishing and maintaining direct marketing programs, and focus on helping fishermen understand how adopting such a new business model might change their daily lives," Pomeroy says.

"We want to know how direct marketing changes how people fish," Walker explains. "Do fishermen’s incomes go up? How do their workloads change? What are the social and economic implications for them and consumers?"

Findings from the case studies will be used to craft a toolkit to help fishing communities assess direct marketing options and then select ones that are most likely to thrive.

The toolkit will be tested in Coos Bay, Ore. and Santa Barbara, Calif., where fishing groups are considering direct marking programs. In the project’s final stage, the team will convene outreach seminars to disseminate the toolkit and share study results with West Coast fishing communities.

"I'd like to see this project evolve direct marketing from something individual fishermen do to something that whole communities get behind," says Pete Granger, a collaborator on the project and the leader of Marine Advisory Services at Washington Sea Grant. "This means ports, processors and local residents would be involved."