Published on SeafoodSource.com
In 2010, I joined the Sea Delight team, coordinating our imports and dabbling part-time in the world of seafood sustainability. Fast-forward seven years, and I’m now the Sustainability Director for Sea Delight, leading our charity arm, the Sea Delight Ocean Fund.
It’s been an incredible journey in which I have been given the opportunity to attend a variety of international workshops to discuss seafood sustainability and present a strong case for supporting Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) worldwide. During these meetings, I have often heard fisher leaders address how the fishing practice is not always cost-effective for them – what they are paid at the point of landing for their catch is not enough to cover the costs of the fishing trip, let alone enough to support themselves, their families or their livelihoods.
While we as an industry speak about better management of a given fishery, stock assessments, IUU, enforcements of regulations, fishing seasons and minimum size, the fishermen usually ask for access to paved roads, their own port of landing, vessel registration, potable water, sewage, healthcare and education.
How can we incentivize fishermen to be engaged in sustainability and be stewards of the better management of their resources when they themselves are not able to provide for their own families and often do not have access to the basic needs of human life?
I have been told in passing that the seafood industry cannot be expected to “build roads” or address infrastructure problems that are the responsibility of the regional governments in place. Though I agree with that individual’s statement to a certain extent, can we as an industry truly talk about social responsibility and seafood sustainability without addressing these issues? Can’t we craft and sign letters of support for FIPs that also push the government to address some of the infrastructure problems in order to be able to engage the fishermen to work towards sustainability?
After 20 years of the sustainability movement, it’s time for “Sustainability 2.0,” wherein concepts and questions like these can be addressed collectively.
I believe the industry is finally starting to understand the purpose FIPs serve – that there is a need for seafood sustainability and that FIPs can provide the building blocks to achieve this goal. However, the level of engagement and investment in this movement is disproportionate. It’s no longer enough for retailers, foodservice personnel and distributors to make commitments towards seafood sustainability and not be a part of the process and the cost. Importers, producers and fishermen shouldn’t be left to carry the organizational and financial burden of these projects – it’s time for us to capitalize on this newfound knowledge and find creative ways to distribute costs across the supply chain.
We need to get end-consumers engaged and be better at marketing seafood products in “Sustainability 2.0,” not only because they are healthy choices, but because it’s the protein that will feed a growing global population in the future. Ultimately, we need a marketing team that can sell sand in the desert, and can sell the concept of sustainability to the masses.
As sustainability enters its new era, we should also look into what role certification bodies should play regarding social responsibility. I don’t agree with the Marine Stewardship Council trying to enter the social responsibility space and incorporate that into their certification scheme. Sometimes less is more, and some organizations should focus on what they do best. Currently, MSC is the standard for seafood sustainability and, as such, that’s what it should focus on. The organization should be more worried about how to make MSC accessible to small-scale fisheries (or any fishery for that matter) lacking in the resources to undergo a pre-assessment or full assessment. Broadening the scope of MSC services just seems like a desperate attempt to stay current and to secure the longevity of the organization’s business model, seeing as not all fisheries can be certified – and some don’t even want to be.
The NGO community, for its part in Sustainability 2.0, should work on setting viable and realistic expectations. I know you want to save the oceans (I want that, too), while also solving human trafficking, slavery and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. However, all this needs to be done with consideration toward the complex, diverse and constantly changing seafood industry.
Capacity building is key. Education is key. Making the business case is key. Most importantly, patience is key. It truly is as the old saying goes: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” We don’t want to go back to the days where industry believed all NGOs were environmental terrorists. The discourse has changed and relationships between NGOs and industry have strengthened. Long-term success depends on continuing to build cooperation and trust between NGOs and industry, and using these tools to lay the proper foundation.