Current Research Objectives
One-third of the world’s food is wasted. For an economist like myself, programed to optimize utility and maximize efficiency, the idea that we are so wasteful with our food just doesn’t sit well. Yet, when you think about it, this makes perfect economic sense. Today, our food is so cheap that being wasteful is a viable business strategy for the food industry. And the same holds true for us, the consumers.
My research focuses on the price of seafood. I ask the question: what’s in the price of fish? Or, more specifically, what’s missing that allows it to be so cheap? It’s what economists refer to as ‘externalities’: cost, or benefit, that affects those who did not choose to incur such cost or benefit. Depletion of fish stocks that diminish the potential catches for future generations and fishing practices that result in high bycatch but keep the operating cost low— these are essentially subsidies from our future, our communities, and our environment that enable us to maintain cheap seafood. Moreover, fishing has values beyond its function in food production. In many cases, fishing occurs in rural regions where it occupies a significant role in the region’s economy, lifestyle, culture, and history. These are values that are not captured by the prices we see in the market. My goal is to determine the total price, or ‘guilt-free’ price, that accounts for all these externalities.
Of course, I recognize the role that fish play in food security of coastal communities, as well as the cultural importance of seafood—I am half Japanese after all. And, therefore, I continue to struggle to find the balance between my belief that seafood should be more expensive yet at the same time, that seafood should not become a luxury food; it should be available to those who need it, not enjoyed only by those who can afford it. So, the second component of my research—my applied work—is to look at the current business practices of large seafood firms, from fishing fleets up to retailers, and present an alternative model that can somehow internalize the externalities of fishing, but at the same time keep seafood affordable to all. For this, I am focusing on the principle of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): the idea that firms embrace responsibilities for their actions and encourage positive impacts through their activities on consumers, environment, and communities. We live in the world where corporate images are increasingly influencing corporate decision-making and where our concerns over food safety are driving greater transparency in the food industry. As such, I believe there is an opportunity to harness the demand for CSR in the seafood industry to generate change.
Ultimately, my hope is to create a case study of a sustainable business model for seafood with an industry partner; a model that does not involve wasting one-third of the fish that we catch from the sea.