Grocery Store Survey of Aquaculture Products

Susan Richardson, Florida Atlantic University - Jupiter
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Initial Publication Date: June 3, 2013 | Reviewed: July 12, 2015


Students work in pairs to survey seafood items sold in local grocery stores or fish markets, recording whether items are farm-raised or wild caught, fresh, frozen or preserved, as well as country of origin. Students use the Seafood Watch website to research the status of each seafood item (e.g., best choice, good choice or avoid). Class data is compiled in an online or Excel spreadsheet. Students use class data to create bar graphs and pie charts of the data for the different categories. Students turn in individual analyses and answer questions based on class results.

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I use this in an introductory undergraduate course on aquaculture, but it could be easily adapted for use in an introductory oceanography or marine biology course to complement chapters on coastal degradation (e.g., destruction of mangroves by shrimp farms), marine fisheries issues (i.e., overfishing) or marine pollution (e.g., impacts of eutrophication as a result of aquaculture waste products).

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have basic computational skills, know how to calculate percentages, and be familiar with basic graphing skills.

How the activity is situated in the course

I use this a stand-alone exercise at the beginning of the course. It takes the students a couple of weeks to complete the surveys and enter their data (in online spreadsheets). The data analysis component can be done in class, or as a homework assignment. I usually discuss the results during lecture and compare them to previous years' results.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Anthropogenic impacts on the ocean, marine life and coastal ecosystems

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students collect their own data, and analyze class data. Students make connections between local and regional sources of seafood, and national and global trends in fisheries and aquaculture.

Other skills goals for this activity

This activity can be extended by including discussion of relevant environmental issues, such as: mislabeling of seafood in stores and restaurants, overfishing, fishing down the food chain, destruction of fragile coastal habitats for aquaculture ponds, pollution of coastal ecosystems from farm waste, economic issues related to trade imbalance in aquaculture products, impact of aquaculture species on wild populations, etc.

Description and Teaching Materials

Part 1. Students work in groups of 2-3 to collect data on wild-capture and farm-raised seafood sold in local grocery stores. Students record their data on a table, and enter their group's data on a shared online spreadsheet (in Google Docs or Microsoft Skydrive). Alternatively, the professor or teaching assistant(s) can compile class data in an Excel spreadsheet.

Part 2. Students analyze the class data individually. For each seafood item listed on the summary table, students determine the Seafood Watch rating using the online search tool at the Monterey Bay Aquarium: Students graph the results as bar graphs and pie charts. Students may also answer extension questions that pertain to the class results, or to local conservation issues.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Data Collection: This project works best when done in groups of 2-3 students; for example, one or more students can read the information off the labels, while another records it in the table. Remind students to tell the store employees that they are working on a class project. In some stores (e.g., Publix in the southeastern US), the seafood department keeps additional information (e.g., method of capture or farming) in a notebook behind the counter. Students can also collect the information they need by taking photos of the seafood products with their phone. (When I field-tested this activity, I took photos with a camera, because writing everything down took too much time.) I usually have each group survey at least 20 items.

Data Entry: I have the students submit their data sheets to me then I summarize their collective data in a table (without the percentage calculations). [This year I had the students enter their data in an online spreadsheet that I had set up in Google Docs. This sheet had additional columns for the name and location of the grocery store, and the names of the student in each group.]

Data Analysis and Interpretation: Students use the summary table of the class data to make the bar graphs and pie charts. I usually have the students do their calculations with a calculator, and make their graphs by hand, because most of the students that I encounter in the intro classes have limited experience in calculating percentages and graphing data. Many of my students struggle with making the pie charts, because they don't know how to covert the proportions to degrees or use a protractor. Students sometimes struggle with the determination of the Seafood Watch rating, because occasionally the seafood item is not on the list, sometimes stores use regional names for seafood, or there may not be enough information to make a definite determination (e.g., fishing or farming methods are unknown). This can be avoided by going through the data and rating it before giving the students the summary table, or by letting the students struggle with the fuzziness of the data (things aren't always clear cut!).


Students are given separate grades on data collection (group) and data analysis and graphs (individual). I give the students a rubric for the grading of the graphs and charts that includes the number of points they will receive for: the graph title, x- and y-axis titles and category labels, accuracy of points plotted or angle of pie wedges, and overall neatness and legibility. I use the Excel (or Google Docs) spreadsheet to make the bar graphs and pie charts for the key. The assessment questions vary from year to year, as do the answers.

References and Resources

The World Wildlife Fund is working to establish guidelines for the farming of commonly farmed seafood products, and is a valuable resource for information on both farmed seafood ( and wild-capture fisheries (

The NOAA Fishwatch website has information on both wild-capture and farmed-raised seafood. The site also includes profiles on different species raised in aquaculture, including information on farming methods and habitat impact:

The FAO has an interactive map showing aquaculture production by country down to the level of individual farms: