IFA Aquaculture is seeking a meeting with Minister Simon Coveney to discuss the findings of a major survey of Irish public opinion on the aquaculture industry.

Undertaken by Behaviour & Attitudes, Ireland’s largest independent market research company, the ‘barometer survey’ was specially commissioned by IFA Aquaculture to assess ‘Public Attitudes and Information Sources on Irish Aquaculture’.

IFA Aquaculture Survey

Writing to Minister Coveney, IFA Executive, Richie Flynn, describes the B&A research as ‘the largest single data gathering exercise undertaken in Ireland into the views and level of knowledge of the general public about fish farming‘. He also claims the survey fulfills a range of functions including:

• informing industry and regulators of positive and negative perceptions of the aquaculture industry

• highlighting areas where industry and agencies need to concentrate resources in terms of messaging and communication programmes

• allowing a direct comparison with survey questions undertaken in a 2008 BIM survey

• filling a knowledge gap to ensure the most effective use of public funds on communicating aquaculture, as recommended by the European Commission in the Blue Growth policy and the EU Aquaculture Strategy

• complementing existing work from the European Commission and other Member States on public perceptions of the sector and its products

“We wanted to compare the national attitude towards the Irish aquaculture industry since the 2008 survey and see how these might have changed in the past seven years,” Richie Flynn told Inshore Ireland.

“References to ‘a national movement’ against aquaculture which have been repeated to us by certain officials and politicians also spurred us into finding out the factual position rather than fighting rumour with counter rumour.

“We also wanted to see how the Irish aquaculture industry can improve our messaging to the wider public, and to concentrate our scarce resources on the knowledge gaps which our industry must address,” he added.

Flynn sees this as “particularly relevant” in view of the fact that the European Commission has “put so much emphasis on the communication of aquaculture issues in its strategy documents accompanying CFP reform and the EMFF”.

He says the B&A’s survey methodology was “very robust”, adding that “barometer surveys are the most typical type of research carried out to establish voting preferences by the national media and political parties.”

This survey consisted of face-to-face interviews rather than phone. It used a well-established formula that ensured the 1,017 people sampled reflected the national breakdown between gender, income class, population spread etc.

“Generally there is a 3% margin of error applied across the board in such surveys. With this in mind when we looked at the first set of results, I was anxious that some of the proportions appeared to be very low – e.g. the level of opposition in coastal areas.

“So we ran several of the questions again, giving a double sample of over 2,000 respondents. B&A have confirmed the results are the same, giving us great confidence in the results.”

Summary of key findings 

Understanding fish farming issues 

• the evidence suggests that on the whole, Irish people are not very clear about the issues surrounding fish farming. With that as a backdrop, the majority do not see it as a bad idea

• the strongest level of resistance to fish farms accounts for 7% of adults (these ‘definitely’ believe it is a bad idea) with a further 16% claiming that it might be (a bad idea)

• as a general rule, understanding the issues around fish farming have declined, as too has resistance to fish farming

• those most likely to reject the concept of fish farming are over 35, living in Dublin and/or the West, middle class adults and indeed those who work in the industry

Fish farming

• considerably fewer homes claim there is a fish farm close to them in the 2015 survey compared with 2008. Currently this stands at 4%

• among those who claim to be living near a fish farm, the dominant species is trout followed by salmon

• importantly, attitudes to having a local fish farm are considerably more positive than was the case in 2008. Over half claim they are happy to see the fish farm there, with a further third claiming they simply don’t think too much about it. Only about 6% are totally against it – and that is a similar proportion to what existed in 2008.

• reasons for acceptance are driven by the perception that it helps ensure fish stocks and provide jobs and wealth creation in the community

• those against it (and there are few) are concerned about water pollution, spoiling the landscape, quality of the fish we eat and conditions in which the fish are kept

• in general the idea that a fish farm might be developed locally is not something that people seem likely to be totally resistant to. For the most part (85% or so) claim they would not oppose such a development or indeed some might be happy to see it developed

• 15% claim they don’t know enough about it and so would probably be against it. The group that are definitely against it are now smaller than was the case in 2008 (from 9% down to 6%) and so equate with around 200,000 now.

• interestingly those involved in the industry are most positive (while they were not so positive about the concept of fish farming in general) while anglers appear to be split – being the most positive and also the most negative

• those who do not like the idea of a fish farm in their area tend to be proactively reading media about the fishing industry

• interestingly however, the driver of resistance tends to be a lack of understanding and so it would no doubt help if a communications programme around the subject matter was undertaken

• the more broad acceptance of the concept (in terms of intensity of feeling) is driven by the potential for job creation and at a lower level, ensuring fish stocks while also believing that fish is a healthy food to eat