Making our Markets Match our Ecosystems

This program is linked to our Symmetry Anchor

These preliminary pie charts hint at a significant disconnect between the ecosystem and the marketplace. The chart on the left shows the species composition (major commercial species only) of New England's continental shelf ecosystem (all three eco-regions combined) using biomass data from stock assessments. The chart on the left shows proportions of landings. The biomass chart is based on real data from stock assessments and the landings chart is based on data available online from the NOAA office of Fisheries Statistics. Species abbreviations: WF= Winter Flounder; WH= White Hake; YT= Yellowtail Flounder; AR= Acadian Redfish; AP= American Plaice; AC= Atlantic Cod; AH= Atlantic Halibut; H= Haddock; M= Monkfish; P= Pollock; RH= Red Hake; SH= Silver Hake; and SD= Spiny Dogfish. A quick glance at these indicates that some species have high landings relative to their proportion of biomass (E.G., winter flounder, cod, monkfish, and silver hake), while some have low landings relative to their proportion of biomass (E.G., acadian redfish, haddock, spiny dogfish). An ecosystem-based marketplace would match the ecosystem much more closely. Eating with the Ecosystem is working with the University of Rhode Island to conduct more advanced analyses of ecosystem-marketplace mismatch.

These preliminary pie charts hint at a significant disconnect between the ecosystem and the marketplace. The chart on the left shows the species composition (major commercial species only) of New England's continental shelf ecosystem (all three eco-regions combined) using biomass data from stock assessments. The chart on the left shows proportions of landings. The biomass chart is based on real data from stock assessments and the landings chart is based on data available online from the NOAA office of Fisheries Statistics. Species abbreviations: WF= Winter Flounder; WH= White Hake; YT= Yellowtail Flounder; AR= Acadian Redfish; AP= American Plaice; AC= Atlantic Cod; AH= Atlantic Halibut; H= Haddock; M= Monkfish; P= Pollock; RH= Red Hake; SH= Silver Hake; and SD= Spiny Dogfish. A quick glance at these indicates that some species have high landings relative to their proportion of biomass (E.G., winter flounder, cod, monkfish, and silver hake), while some have low landings relative to their proportion of biomass (E.G., acadian redfish, haddock, spiny dogfish). An ecosystem-based marketplace would match the ecosystem much more closely. Eating with the Ecosystem is working with the University of Rhode Island to conduct more advanced analyses of ecosystem-marketplace mismatch.

Traditionally, the species mix pursued by fisheries has been driven by market demand, and fishermen have fished for what consumers paid the highest price for. But this cherry-picking pattern has had ripple effects in marine food webs, leading to ecosystem perturbations and unpredictable fisheries. Eating with the Ecosystem advocates flipping the causal chain around: instead of markets determining ecosystem structure, we think that ecosystem structure should drive markets. 

We are working in partnership with researchers Dr. Jeremy Collie and Dr. Hiro Uchida at the University of Rhode Island to gain a better understanding of the matches and mismatches that exist between New England marine ecosystems and the seafood markets that our fisheries supply.  

Phase I (January-April 2017): Ecological and bio-economic analyses will enable us to compare the relative proportion of each species' ecosystem production ("ecosystem share") with its proportion of landings ("market share"). Key informant interviews with people up and down the seafood supply chain will help us understand why mismatches exist, and what actions are needed to resolve them.

Phase II (May-October 2017): A citizen science project will engage 50+ New England seafood consumers in an attempt to match their seafood diets to ecosystem product (i.e., eat a truly representative array of local species) for six months. A mobile website will record and share participants' experiences, providing key clues about how our region can achieve a closer symmetry between ecosystems and markets.

Phase III (November 2017-August 2018): Outreach and dissemination. Our findings will support creation of an ecosystem-market symmetry toolkit that seafood businesses throughout New England can employ. Through networking, conferences, reports, and public education, we will help make the notion of ecosystem-market symmetry a foundational principle for seafood marketing and food advocacy throughout the region, and a model for other regions. We'll also publish a cookbook!

Once complete, we will integrate this knowledge into seafood marketing and ecosystem management plans around the New England region. For example, view Eating with the Ecosystem's January 2016 recommendations on ecosystem-based marketing for the Rhode Island Food Strategy.