Pledge seen as ‘breakthrough’ for seafood industry sustainability

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© istock/RomoloTavani
© istock/RomoloTavani
Eight CEOs of the leading seafood companies globally, in both wild capture and aquaculture, along with fish feed players have signed a major ocean sustainability pledge.

The Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship​,initiated four years ago by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), was kick-started with a meeting of the main players in different segments of the seafood industry in the Maldives last month. 

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Feed, farmed fish and wild capture sectors agree on common sustainability goals. © istock/schalkm

“Most marine sustainability initiatives are typically driven by NGOs. This is different as the stewardship is rooted in a scientific, systematic approach to tackling the issues. It bridges the two worlds of fisheries and aquaculture, it also bridges the European and Asian perspectives and it links the CEOs of eight very influential companies, all with an interest in the future state of the ocean, who have agreed to the same high level commitments,”​ Knut Nesse, CEO of Nutreco, one of the companies involved, told FeedNavigator yesterday. 

'Pioneering' sustainability platform

Within seafood, there has indeed been quite a few sustainability orientated platforms over the years but they have mainly been concentrated within sectors, either in salmon, or in tuna operations or other parts of the seafood system, and not across species, said the SRC, the driving force behind this industry collaboration.

Player line-up

The companies signing up to these pledges include the two largest seafood producers by revenues - Maruha Nichiro Corporation and Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd - two of the largest tuna companies in the world - Thai Union Group PCL and Dongwon Industries - the two largest salmon farmers - Marine Harvest ASA and Cermaq - and the two largest aquafeed companies – Skretting, owned by Nutreco, and Cargill Aqua Nutrition.

“This initiative has managed to bring together the leading companies within the global seafood industry, irrespective of the segment in which they operate,”​ explained Henrik Österblom, deputy science director at the SRC.

He said the outcomes achieved at the Maldives meeting exceeded all the SRC’s expectations: “The statement​ from the eight CEOs is a foundation for long term collaboration.”

Slave trade 

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Clear acknowledgment of slave trade issues at Maldives meeting seen as 'milestone' ©istock/hansslegers

Nesse said the clear acknowledgement at that meeting of the social issues associated with wild capture fisheries was a significant development.

The eight signatories agreed last month that:

“The ocean is also directly affected by activities of wild capture fisheries, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, bycatch, overfishing and modern slavery.

“In the face of a growing and wealthier world population, the reliance on aquaculture as a crucial contributor to sustainable food production will increase. However, badly managed, aquaculture can have detrimental social and environmental impacts.” 

Commitments

As well as those goals, the companies said they will act to:

  • Improve transparency and traceability in their own operations, and work together to share information and best practice, building on existing industry partnerships and collaborations.
  • Engage in science-based efforts to improve fisheries and aquaculture management and productivity, through collaboration with industry, regulators and civil society.
  • Work towards reducing the use of antibiotics in aquaculture.
  • Reduce the use of plastics in seafood operations, and encourage global efforts to reduce plastic pollution.
  • Reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Secure new growth in aquaculture, by deploying best practices in preventive health management, including improved regulatory regimes.
  • Collaborate and invest in the development and deployment of emerging approaches and technologies for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. 
  • Support novel initiatives and innovations for ocean stewardship.

Deliverables

Nutreco has a global perspective, said Nesse, and has flagged up, as have others, where there is room for improvement in the farmed fish sector in Asia, in particular. He said intense focus on nutrition, preventative health approaches, genetics, vaccination and farming practices could make production in that region more sustainable.

The industry partners, he continued, are realistic about the timescales involved in achieving their overall goals: “Based on my experiences, it can take a few years to go from high level commitments to tangible actions. But we were really excited to see that all eight CEOs were able to agree on these objectives,” ​said Nesse.  

He said now the commitments have been spelt out, the next stage is for those goals to be translated into various work streams, allowing engagement with regulators and other stakeholders to begin. “The CEOs will take on a monitoring role, we will check progress on those commitments twice a year,”​ explained Nesse.

But how are salmon producers, for example, already so overwhelmed by sea lice infestation levels, going to manage resources to free up time to concentrate on these commitments?

“They don’t really have an option, the recognize they have a global responsibility on sustainability, it remains to be seen how they will achieve it, but is up to them to deliver on those objectives,” ​said Österblom.

Background

The Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship project got underway in 2012 when the SRC undertook a data gathering exercise to find out who the leading global actors were that would be able to have the most effect on the worldwide marine ecosystem.

The team’s research project set about documenting the revenues and the volumes of the leading seafood companies in what he termed as “not the most transparent” ​of industries. 

That study showed only a handful of seafood corporations control 19-40% of some of the largest and most valuable stocks and 11-16% of the global marine catch.

Österblom calls them keystone actors as they dominate global production revenues and volumes within a particular sector, control globally relevant segments of production, connect ecosystems globally through subsidiaries, and influence global governance processes and institutions.  

Kritchanut import supply chain
Keystone actors are said to dominate global production revenues and volumes within a particular sector, control globally relevant segments of production and connect ecosystems globally through subsidiaries © istock/Kritchanut

“There has been a huge amount of work done in the past four years to get us to this point of agreement on commitments. We built a relationship with those keystone companies, established a connection with the CEOs, and now have provided a platform for a science based business approach to meeting targets on sustainability,”​ he said.

The companies involved have already well established links with policymakers at national level, and actively participate in regional fishery programs so this connectivity is something this stewardship initiative can leverage, added Österblom.

And he noted the huge amount of innovation that has taken place in the feed sector in recent years can “inspire”​ players both upstream and downstream in respect of objectives.

A follow-up meeting to the Maldives gathering is set to take place in Stockholm in early 2017.

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