Team Insights from the 2016 Innovation Forum’s Sustainable Seafood ConferenceMay 30th, 2016
Team Insights from the 2016 Innovation Forum’s Sustainable Seafood Conference
We are all busy – and we generally don’t pause to consider where the food on our plate came from but at the Alliance we encourage consumers to think more about it: where did it come from? how was it harvested? how was it manufactured?
While preliminary efforts are underway to increase transparency, and there are a handful of success stories, we are still a long way from reaching full traceability of our seafood products. But some recent media coverage has begun to highlight the extent to which this lack of transparency translates into environmental and social issues of public interest, generating increased awareness, and in turn commercial interest, in the sustainability of the industry.
The agenda was action packed with experts from all over the country coming together to explore better practice together.
The “Ocean Governance and the Seafood Industry State of Play” panel explored the gap between where we currently stand and where we should be, and laid the groundwork for a productive dialogue on emerging threats and ethical expectations, as well as new regulation and the evolving interplay between corporations and governments.
A recent award-winning AP investigation, along with pieces in the Guardian, the New York Times, and other outlets, have brought attention to the use of slave labor and other human rights concerns in the seafood industry, both on ships as well as in processing facilities. Human rights violations include human trafficking, child labor, precarious work without contract, wage abuse, piece work and occupational and safety delinquency, often exacerbated by the use of transshipments that transfer the catch from one boat to another (and allow fishing vessels to remain at sea for months).
These revelations add to the challenges we face everyday in managing a global resource. Addressing this range of issues becomes even trickier as rising temperatures—linked to ocean acidification, ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss and fish (and human) migration—continue to change the rules of the game.
Improved governance of the seafood industry will mean prioritizing three primary areas: traceability, ownership and education. “Boat-to-border” traceability, with increased scrutiny of operations (also urged by a proposed US federal traceability program) will foster greater transparency, and help unearth practices frequently hidden 10–12 steps of complex global supply chains. Producers, traders, and buyers must exert more ownership, taking full responsibility for products and services.
Crucially, retailers should opt for more selective purchasing of both fresh seafood and canned and frozen goods, and provide customers with easier access to information about the reputations of the brands on their shelves in relation to sustainability and ethical business practices. Certifying a greater percentage of the market using standards like those set by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) will also help to educate consumers. And technological innovations that improve tracking and monitoring will deliver an abundance of data, also to be supplemented by a vast statistical information base created by the Sustainable Development Goals.
The industry will need to adopt a visionary and ecosystem-based approach rather than from time to time attending to issues at single fisheries following a scandal and waiting for regulatory frameworks to slowly come into place.
We have made a public commitment to look more closely at all of our operations, vowing to get involved in the policy-making that will support ecosystem-based management of resources, vertically traceable supply chains, and strong labor practices. Communication and collaboration between government, industry, and NGOs will help to identify key action plans and tools, speeding up the adoption of best practices and a more sustainable agenda.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done and the work we’re doing – focused on continuous improvement. We know that there is always a better bar to strive for – and invite NGOs and other stakeholders to work with us on our Sustainability Action Plan.