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Researchers detail the long chain of events required for cultured seafood to deliver environmental benefits

Meat cultured in laboratory conditions
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A big hurdle is getting consumers to adopt cultured seafood instead of buying wild-caught fish. Convincing people to take on something new and leave behind something old is a huge challenge.

HARRISON TASOFF: Meat alternatives are officially mainstream… Proponents highlight a range of potential environmental and health benefits offered by this emerging industry, and several companies believe that these benefits could also play out with seafood. A multidisciplinary team of researchers has taken a good, hard look at what it would take for cell-based seafood to deliver conservation benefits.

They have compiled their findings into a paper in the journal Fish & Fisheries in which they lay out the road map to change, comprising nine distinct steps. The authors contend that cell-based seafood faces a long, narrow path toward recovering fish stocks in the ocean, with success ultimately determined by the complex interplay of behavioral, economic and ecological factors…

The core question of our work was, can this new technology — cell-based seafood — have a conservation benefit in the ocean?… A team of 12 researchers from UC Santa Barbara converged to answer this question, including economists, ecologists and data scientists as well as experts on fisheries, aquaculture and cell-based meat technology. They brought their expertise and the scientific literature to bear in order to flesh out the key steps along this pathway. Eventually they distilled it to nine significant phases.

The journey begins by developing a viable product and introducing it to the market, where it must then drop to a price competitive with existing seafood. At this point, a significant proportion of consumers have to adopt the new product as a substitute for traditional seafood. This is a key step, the authors said, and particularly tricky to pull off…

Each of these steps brings with it a variety of hurdles, perhaps none harder than getting consumers to adopt the cultured seafood instead of buying wild-caught fish. Convincing people to take on something new and leave behind something old is a huge challenge, Halpern explained. It’s also an understudied part of this process, he added…

Most of these hurdles apply to any consumer-driven intervention in the ocean. It’s challenging to harness people’s preferences, their buying habits, to drive change. “Trying to use consumer behavior as a way to influence the ocean requires a lot more steps than top-down approaches like regulations,” said coauthor Heather Lahr, the cell-based seafood project manager at UC Santa Barbara’s Environmental Market Solutions Lab (emLab)…

Halpern believes that, if society truly applies its resources toward developing technology to address a challenge, it will likely find one. “But whether the technology will actually achieve the intended outcome depends on so many other steps,” he said. “So we need to think carefully through all those steps before counting on any particular solution to deliver the outcome we hope for”. SOURCE…

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