Florida represents a major component of the nation’s seafood industry. The commercial fishing industry in Florida lands approximately 100 million pounds of wild-caught finfish and shellfish annually. Over one hundred species, including shrimp, grouper, spiny lobster, stone crab, snapper, and others, are harvested in Florida and comprise an extremely diverse mix of high-quality products that are eventually sold into local, regional, and national markets. While effective management has kept the traditional finfish and shellfish species in the markets, an even more diverse group of seafood products are imported into Florida from other states and foreign sources.
During 2012, the quantity of imported seafood into the US market exceeded domestic landings by 42%. With Florida being a leading state for importing and processing seafood, the contribution of imports into local markets cannot be understated. The seafood industry in Florida includes a complex network of harvesting, importation, processing, and sales which fuels a very large economic engine. Florida-harvested seafood annually generates $171 million in economic impacts and creates over 7,400 jobs, while imported seafood generates $2.4 billion in economic impacts and creates 65,000 jobs. The economic importance of the state’s industry aside, locally-harvested and imported seafood products provide Florida’s seafood consumers with an unparalleled assortment of seafood products to savor and enjoy.
As the demand for seafood continues to grow in Florida, driven by a growing population, a constantly changing ethnicity mix, and evolving economic conditions, the need for a high-quality, diverse, sustainable, and affordable seafood supply is increasingly important. However, many Floridians are becoming more concerned about the origin, quality, sustainability, safety, affordability, and convenience of the seafood products they purchase. Local food movements are compelling consumers to purchase more locally sourced products. The growing presence of “green” products and eco-labeling is creating an awareness of the sustainability of seafood. Convenience packaging is realizing a growing market share as consumers continue to seek confidence in preparing seafood at home. In addition, the media exposure of contaminants in food products and the increasing incidence of economic fraud, such as mislabeling, contribute to a complex and confusing marketplace. Consumer confusion and uncertainty exists, creating a demonstrable need for educational programs that help can help buyers make informed decisions about the seafood products they should purchase for their households.
Thus, a survey of Florida seafood consumer preferences, perceptions and concerns was needed to assess the regional educational needs of seafood consumers. A survey was needed to address the myriad issues concerning seafood quality, safety, product origin, mislabeling, sustainability and traceability. The survey also addressed regional needs within the state (i.e., proximity to the coast, north/south/central with the peninsula, etc.), seasonality issues, consumer demographics, awareness of health benefits associated with seafood, preparation methods, and concerns associated with recent environmental events. The findings of the survey augment the information that exists from previous seafood perception surveys for Florida and the other states within the Gulf region. The survey findings are a key source of information to accurately assess the educational needs of the future educational programs and help identify the topics of greatest concern to various clientele groups.