Cindy Sandoval is the communications specialist for NOAA Fisheries' Office of Aquaculture.
Tell us a little bit about your role as communications specialist at NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture. What do you do?
As the communications specialist for the Office of Aquaculture my responsibilities include providing relevant marine aquaculture information to stakeholders and designing outreach strategies and materials. I coordinate communications efforts both with internal and external stakeholders while building partnerships to foster sustainable aquaculture education and understanding.
Why did you decide to work in communications? Specifically, why did you decide to tackle seafood and marine aquaculture?
One of the reasons to work in science communications is to inspire ecosystem stewardship and increase understanding about many topics, including sustainable seafood. Most of the public still has limited understanding of aquaculture and may encounter information that can be out of date, inaccurate, or incomplete. Working with researchers, policymakers, farmers, and educators to help the public make informed decisions is very important to me.
You’ve had the opportunity to visit U.S. farms to create some of your outreach and education resources. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about marine aquaculture?
One aspect that many might find surprising is just how friendly farmers are. Everyone has an idea about a corn farmer or tomato farmer, but when the public thinks of farming on water the idea gets a little fuzzy. These aquaculture farmers are just like the farmers you imagined as a kid: They are friendly and hard-working, and they are excited to share their knowledge and expertise with you. These men and women are also some of the best environmental stewards around. They rely on the ocean for their livelihood, and they are fierce supporters of a healthy ocean.
What are some examples of NOAA’s efforts to educate stakeholders and the public about marine aquaculture?
NOAA uses a variety of communication channels to educate stakeholders. One of my favorite events is the NOAA Open House. During these events the Office of Aquaculture staff interacts with thousands of visitors and explains the importance of sustainable aquaculture. We even teach a few people how to shuck oysters. We attend many stakeholders conferences to engage with growers, policymakers, and educators to discuss our collective challenges and opportunities and formulate solutions. We also engage with the aquarium community to help inform their visitors. These institutions are a trusted source of ocean science information, and they can help educate millions of visitors about aquaculture’s role in sustainable seafood. We create products including fact sheets, webpages, videos, and webinars that allow experts and scientists to share aquaculture information in easy-to-use formats.
How do public perceptions (real and perceived) about marine aquaculture affect the growth and expansion of marine aquaculture in the U.S.?
Public perceptions of aquaculture play just as big a role as aquaculture policies and regulation when it comes to industry growth. If aquaculture misconceptions halt the growth of the industry in the U.S., farmers and the industry as a whole will expand their business in other nations. This lack of understanding about both the challenges and benefits of aquaculture can have real impacts on our working waterfronts, coastal communities, and seafood independence. Public perception is vital to building an aquaculture industry that complements our wild fisheries here in the U.S.
How can stakeholders help address these perception challenges?
Every stakeholder group can play a role in changing aquaculture perceptions, whether it is a seafood restaurant training their staff to talk about aquaculture’s role in sustainable seafood, a teacher introducing students to the cutting-edge science used in aquaculture, or a farmer inviting the public to tour their site. Collectively we can all add to the conversation about aquaculture and help other stakeholders understand the opportunities for sustainable ocean farming.
What are the best opportunities for collaboration with NOAA’s efforts?
There are many opportunities to collaborate with NOAA on aquaculture efforts. NOAA offers a variety of grants throughout the year to help address industry barriers, bring new species to market, and even to increase public engagement with aquaculture. We also take part in stakeholder webinar series, open house events and panel discussions and help design education training. Perhaps some of the best opportunities to collaborate are through the NOAA Fisheries Regional Aquaculture Coordinators. Each region has at least one coordinator who can help connect you to farmers, researchers, and other appropriate stakeholders and colleagues in your area or collaborate on aquaculture projects.
What is your advice to the professionals of the broader community (including government leaders, educators, researchers, environmental organizations, etc.) about communicating U.S. marine aquaculture to their audiences? What do you want them to know or consider as they address this topic with their audiences?
In the U.S., we need to build on our current wild capture success and–at the same time–create a climate of opportunity for domestic marine aquaculture. Diversifying U.S. seafood production can expand and stabilize the U.S. seafood supply in the face of environmental change and economic uncertainty. This is not wild-capture vs. aquaculture. It is about sustainable seafood and healthy protein for our nation. We need both industries to meet the current and future demand, and by working together and sharing lessons learned we can accomplish a lot.
What are 2-3 messages that you think the public should know about marine aquaculture?
U.S. fishermen and fish farmers operate under some of the most robust and transparent environmental standards in the world. NOAA Fisheries works to advance and export sustainable management practices internationally, establish and maintain a level playing field for our fishermen and fish farmers, and maintain confidence in U.S. seafood production and access to the global marketplace.
NOAA recognizes that marine aquaculture is vital for supporting our nation’s seafood production, providing year-round jobs, rebuilding protected species and habitats, and enhancing coastal resilience. We remain committed to supporting cutting-edge science and research as well as federal policymaking and regulation to grow sustainable aquaculture in the U.S. and expand its social, economic, and environmental benefits.