In recent years, several new technologies have been implemented in the aquaculture sector. Process optimization, water consumption reduction, and inputs reduction are some of the reasons for producers to apply new technologies in aquaculture farms.
Within the NewTechAqua project (European Commission, Horizon 2020, number 862658), several new technologies applied in the aquaculture industry are being studied from an interdisciplinary point of view, including:
- Production systems: aquaponics, recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), biofloc technology (BFT).
- Managing technologies: artificial intelligence (AI), electrochemical biosensors, prediction models.
Nevertheless, together with chemical and microbiological hazards, the use of new technologies in food production is one of the major concerns for consumers. Therefore, it is of great interest to inquire into consumers’ perceptions, feelings, and opinions of new technologies applied in the aquaculture industry when designing communication and marketing campaigns and in providing guidelines for producers and policymakers.
One focus group was carried out in three different European countries (France, Italy, and Spain), in which around 8 participants took part in each. Focus groups sessions aimed to get a deeper understanding of consumers’ perceptions of new production systems and new managing technologies studied within the NewTechAqua project.
Results showed that, as a general trend, there was a widespread lack of knowledge of all the technologies presented.
Aquaponics was perceived rather positively in all countries except in Spain, due to their unawareness of this production system. Some participants associated it with the concept of ‘hydroponics’, although ‘natural’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘environmentally friendly’ terms also came out. RAS perception was twofold among Spanish participants, who rejected it if it meant ‘dirty’ and ‘not renewed water’, whereas they perceived it positive if it meant ‘water filtration’, ‘recycle water’, ‘sustainability’, or ‘ecological’. Biofloc technology was perceived positively among French and Italian participants due to its name, as the prefix ‘bio-’ generated good feelings among them.
AI was probably the most known technology, and its perception was generally positive. ‘Future’, ‘automation’, and ‘control’ were the most cited words. AI evoked ‘better management’, ‘keep standards’, ‘mass production’, and ‘clean the sea’ terms, although it generated some degree of distrust among French participants. Electrochemical biosensors were mainly associated with control (i.e., fish, water, production), showing most participants a lack of knowledge about this technology. Finally, prediction models were perceived rather positively. ‘Control’ was frequently mentioned (e.g., production, quality, economic) along with ‘better management’ and ‘higher yields’, but ‘overconsumption’ and ‘sustainability’ issues also came out.
Some of those results were presented at the Aquaculture Europe 2021 conference, you can download the abstract entitled “Consumers’ perception of new aquaculture technologies” by clicking on this link.
Results obtained from the focus groups were used as input to build a cross-cultural survey with 2,500 participants in five European countries (i.e., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland).