The Other EBFM: Designing Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Marketing Strategies to Complement Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management

A Collaborative Research Project with the University Of Rhode Island

This project is linked to our Symmetry Anchor

Poster presented by Kate Masury at that annual American Fisheries Society (AFS) Conference in Tampa in August


In an ideal world, consumers would eat seafood perfectly in balance with what our local ecosystems produce, allowing our ecosystems to maintain their natural structure and function and allowing our fisheries to not only harvest what is available to them but also have healthy markets to sell all of their fish to. Participants from across the fisheries governance spectrum see a need to understand the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems and to apply this understanding to the management of fisheries. This is called Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management and is the direction that much of our management is moving, granted at a slow pace. However, as our management and fisheries becomes more adaptable, it is important that our markets and consumers follow suit. It is not enough to just have our fishermen harvest in balance with our ecosystems. Fishermen and related seafood businesses still need to be able to make a living off what they catch and sell. That means, as consumers we must adapt our diets to eat in balance with our local ecosystems and fisheries. We need to create demand for all species not just our few favorites.

This project begins to exploring a basic question for New England fisheries: how well does the composition of species in our regional New England seafood marketplace match the composition of species in our local ecosystems (and what would make these two things match better)?

A collaborative research project, "The Other EBFM: Designing Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Marketing Strategies to Complement Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management", is a partnership with the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography and College of Environment and Life Sciences (September 2016 - August 2018). This interdisciplinary project consists of five phases and uses ecological analysis, bio-economic analysis, social science methods, and a citizen science research project to investigate differences between the relative production values of a broad suite of Northeast U.S. continental shelf fishery species and their relative representation in the marketplace. The goal being to highlight opportunities for greater utilization of species whose production is high relative to their landings and to lay a pathway towards reduction of fishery concentration on a small set of species. We hope that by providing an ecosystem science-based template for attaining a better overall ecosystem-marketplace match, that this concept will help to improve fishery incomes by broadening the field of marketable species, enhancing ecosystem resilience by moderating fishing impacts to biodiversity, and complementing efforts to pursue ecosystem-based fisheries management in the policy arena. It will result in the creation of a seafood cookbook, a toolkit and public display materials for New England retail shops, and an engaged corps of citizen scientists throughout New England coastal states who now act as conduits to their local communities, spreading education and awareness about local seafood and ecosystems.

*The project is divided into five phases with some of these phases happening simultaneously.


Objective: compare species landings data to ecological production for four Northeast ecosystems (Scotian Shelf, Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Mid-Atlantic Bight), identifying species with a high degree of mismatch between their “ecosystem share” and their “market share”

The first part of the project is the Ecological Analyses and is being lead by Jeremy Collie, a fisheries scientist at URI and his graduate student Joe Zottoli.

The purpose of this phase is to compare catch and landings data to species’ relative production. We are working to quantify the difference between the market share (from fisheries landings) and ecosystem production share, of each species by comparing its share in landings to its proportion of the production. In doing so, we are incorporating humans into the marine food webs by considering fisheries as ecological predators. This allows us to use existing ecological indices to measure preference of the fishery for each species. We will then be measuring how ecosystem-market symmetry has changed over time and will be exploring the underlying causes for this.

We are using the ecoregions defined by the Ecosystem Dynamics group in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center( NEFSC ):Scotian Shelf, Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Mid-Atlantic Bight. We are considering all species managed by the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) and the marine but not anadromous species managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). We are also including the ecologically important unmanaged species that are captured by the trawl surveys, and important invertebrate species. We are doing this for the time period between 1994-2015, during which catch reporting has been consistent. And we are using a hybrid approach, which combines age-structured stock assessments, surplus production models, and production/biomass ratios.

*This phase is ongoing


Objective: determine to what extent species of the same trophic guild are also substitutable in the marketplace.

The second phase is Bioeconomic analyses, which are being led by URI economist, Hiro Uchida. Hiro is working on an economic substitutability analysis to determine to what extent species of the same trophic guild are also substitutable in the marketplace. Species within a single trophic guild are in essence ecologically substitutable, in terms of their role in ecosystem functioning. Because of the functional redundancy of species within the same guild, some scientists suggest that EBFM practitioners should consider setting aggregate catch caps for trophic guilds vs for species. Substitutability will being analyzed via estimation of cross-price elasticities (CPE) across fish species. CPE indicates whether the two goods, in our context two fish species, are deemed substitutes or complements in seafood market. (CPE will be estimated using the popular Almost Ideal Demand System model (Deaton and Muellbauer 1980).)

*This phase is ongoing


Objective: to assess the market availability of New England caught seafood to New England consumers and the role of consumer preference in driving disparities between ecosystem production and market share for certain species, as well as helping to identify opportunities for growth for those species that are underrepresented in the marketplace but enjoyed by consumers.

Phase three is our Eat Like a Fish Citizen Science Research Project which is being led by Eating with the Ecosystem. In this phase, we have enrolled 89 consumers across New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) as citizen scientists tasked with searching for, purchasing, preparing, and eating wild New England seafood species. Every week our citizen-science participants are given a weekly eating assignment of four (out of 52) randomly generated species from our New England marine ecosystems. They are then tasked with searching for these species in their local marketplace. They can visit any type of market that sells seafood as long as it is located within New England. These can be grocery stores, seafood markets, farmer’s markets, specialty markets, CSFs, and even direct sales from fishermen (as long as it is legal). For each visit, our citizen scientists record whether or not their species were available at their chosen markets and then if they find one or more of their fish, they chose one to purchase, take home, and cook. At the end of each week they record their experience via an online data logger form, called the Fish Diary. Images and quotes from their experiences can be found on our blog

Our citizen scientists started this project in May and after 6 months of hard work, they wrapped up their 26th and final week of data collection. We will be analyzing the data to determine the market availability of each species and whether factors such as distance from the coast or how affluent the area that the market is located in makes a difference in the availability of local species they offer. We will also be analyzing this data alongside our ecosystem production data to understand how well our regional marketplace matches the production of species from our local waters. This study will also help shed light on the role of consumer preferences in driving disparities between ecosystem production and market share for certain species as well as helping to identify opportunities for growth for those species that are underrepresented in the marketplace but enjoyed by consumers.    

*This phase is ongoing


Objective: to explore the causes and consequences of the patterns detected in Phases 1,2, & 3 through dialogue with seafood supply chain members.

The purpose of this phase is to begin a dialogue with seafood supply chain members to explore the causes and consequences of the patterns detected in the earlier phases. We will use two techniques – an online survey and an in-depth qualitative key informant interviews, which will be performed in person or over the phone. We will survey at least 25 individuals and interview at least 25 individuals (possibly with some overlap) at various points along the New England seafood supply chain, from fishermen to retailers/restaurants. The key informant interview survey will offer experience-based accounts explaining why the market share of various species is large or small relative to their “ecosystem share” as measured by production.  The survey will help us understand the representativeness of these responses.

*This phase is scheduled to start in Winter 2018


Education and dissemination will occur throughout this project, but we will reserve six months at the end of the grant period to focus our full efforts on producing outreach materials. These materials will include a cookbook, an infographic poster/image, a toolkit for seafood businesses, a three-minute YouTube video, an academic report/paper/presentation, and also a set of short targeted summaries for policy makers, the public, and seafood supply chain members.