Sustainable seafood should not be a monopoly
Wednesday,8 February,2012 20:19:36
As soon as you create a monopoly situation you run risks. When you get a monopoly power is created and from that come all sorts of human frailties. Monopolies are rarely good for the long term and within an industry they can be a cancer.
If giant organizations make statements that they will only take one brand that creates a monopoly situation that has ramnifications right through the whole supply chain. Some of this can be good but, generally speaking, is it wise to have all your business based around one brand?
The decision by Alaskan producers of wild salmon to withdraw from MSC certification has created a major discussion platform. You can see that many people have staked their ground on this and are prepared for hand-to-hand combat to protect what they believe. There are also many people would like to comment but feel constricted because they are scared of upsetting people, organizations, etc., so at a time we should be having discussions and debates in the open we are finding that words are spoken in the same manner that a football coach gives his orders – behind boards or closed doors. I think we should use this time to reflect on the journey we have been on and really think hard about the future.
Iceland had already thrown their “hat into the ring” when they made their decision to go with Global Trust FAO Responsible Fisheries certification. This didn’t create too many ripples because they had not travelled the MSC path. Alaska had.
In my opinion the industry needs this. Informed choice is now on offer. This is important for the future. Surely this is all about opportunity.
This has been an incredible journey. It really all started from an idea on marketing a new product and creating a new niche, sustainability. It has entrenched people into supporting one camp or another despite the fact there are other standards out there.
We need to avoid a monopoly standard situation in the market and ensure that standards are allowed to enter the market, be benchmarked in a competent and unbiased manner and then get market approval for what they claim to be. This also helps us pomote our products so much better as surely the key, at the end of the day is responsibly harvesting!
I have noted there is a move in EU to suggest we only need one standard. Standard, brand, product – whatever you want to call it – Coca Cola has its own flavor and brand but that does not stop Pepsi Cola or any other brand of Cola getting a share of the market.
Sustainability is not a private party. Enabling all certifiers of standards to back up their claims and put forward their options is very important because it is plainly unacceptable to have a situation where a single private entity, on the basis of a changeable private standard, has sole authority to decide who can sell seafood to the public and who cannot.
There was some talk last year of a Seafood Sustainability Standards Equivalence Committee (SSEC) being organized but that seems not to have occurred. There is no reason why that could not be re-visited. In order for that to happen it would need to be a collaboration between some of the world's leading seafood standards and management experts from fishery and aquaculture science, NGO, certification and standards conformity, retail, manufacturer and foodservice companies, as well as service providers associated with the seafood supply chain.
This initiative could help so many stakeholders in the seafood sector from being confused with so many mixed messages from poorly researched and biased reviews on seafood standards from parties who are not properly funded or competent to do this exercise.
A WWF commissioned survey (wwf.eu/fisheries) carried out last year showed that an overwhelming majority of European citizens wanted fish products on sale within the EU to come from sources that aren’t overfished. The majority of industry players, throughout the supply chain, have concerns about some specific areas of practices that are not attuned to market needs. As the European Commission is working through its proposal for a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), there is debate about what industry and policy players can do to end overfishing and discards, guarantee a more efficient and profitable fishing sector and help maximize the value of fish from catch to consumer. It is important that Europe finalizes their sustainable management plans. Having choices with certification would assist that process too.
At the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels in 2011 Maria Damanaki, EU commissioner for Maritime Affairs & Fisheries presided over a Roundtable Event which included Mr Aldin Hilbrands, Royal Ahold representing EuroCommerce Collaboration between the retail sector, seafood industry and NGOs spoke of providing consumers with healthy, sustainably sourced fish and maximise the value of fish products and Rosita Zilli, Euro Coop, who was keen on improving the supply of certified fish and how the EU needs to improve scientific assessments of fish stocks and the traceability of fish products. Having all of this under one brand was probably never going to work as there would have to be compromises made.
In Australia there has been much debate. Our largest and most profitable fishery (at the time anyway) became the first MSC approved fishery and since then there have been other fisheries go down the same path. Additionally in Australia we have the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) which stipulates that you cannot export any wild caught product unless your fishery has been independently assessed to ensure that, over time, fisheries are managed in an ecologically sustainable way, however, the government to date has failed to give the industry a label/brand to promote this important aspect.
You can see that Australian Fisheries Management regimes might want to align with a certification standard but they could create their own and still have their own destiny in their hands. Let us hope they make the right decisions given the choice they now have.
At the end of the day this is about harvesting seafood in a responsible manner and ensuring the supply chain partners having the right to decide how to demonstrate best practice to their customers. This cannot happen without the availability of credible options.
I am going to create a LinkedIn Discussion on this subject at “An Association of International Seafood Professionals” group. If you want to join in contact me (or LinkIn) through firstname.lastname@example.org and let us see what we can achieve for the betterment of the industry and consumers.