By Nicki Holmyard, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 05 February, 2013
U.K. seafood body Seafish recently went through a period of uncertainty while its right to collect levies on imported seafood was challenged in the U.K. courts. This is now resolved and the organization has re-emerged with a new board and a new direction. CEO Paul Williams talked to SeafoodSource about the changes.
Holmyard: What is the key focus of your new direction?
Williams: Arriving at the new direction marked a fundamental change in the way Seafish works. We have always had advisory committees and consultations, but this time we put together three industry panels to look at domestic supply and exports, the supply chain and consumers, and imports and processing, and asked them to look at all the issues and decide where Seafish should be involved.
The resulting focus is necessarily broad, but is designed to give us opportunities to maintain the reputation and integrity of the seafood industry. It covers international trade, regulation and compliance, education and consumption, environmental issues, standards, information, and safety at sea. A big change is an increased awareness of the supply chain to the consumer.
Lots of new things will be coming in, such as increased support to help companies promote their products overseas, and a focus on trade missions with key supply sources for the U.K. such as Iceland and Norway.
Our structure has also slightly changed, with main hubs in Scotland and Grimsby and regional arms to help deliver in Wales and Northern Ireland.
What are you doing to re-establish Seafish as the authority on seafood?
We are working hard to re-establish contacts with the media, talking to journalists, doing interviews, making comment and broadcasts, and supplying researchers and news services with datasheets, facts and figures. We want to be the first port of call for all seafood information and especially when there is an issue. The more we can do to establish that we are the best people to turn to, the more chance we have to influence the debate and avoid some of the insane attention grabbing headlines that proliferate in the media.
Does being the Authority mean that you need to hold a wide range of in-house expertise, or to act as a directory for outside expertise?
It is a combination of both, we hold some expertise but also outsource where appropriate. We are particularly strong on economics and also on responsible sourcing, which is something the industry wants us to take ownership for. We need to define what responsible sourcing is; not just stocks and management issues, but the wider questions around this, so that buyers, retailers and processors can make decisions based on trusted information.
How important is it for you to help drive an increase in U.K. seafood consumption and how will you achieve it?
We can’t drive consumption as price is the biggest influence, but we aim to ensure that every consumer has an understanding of why they should eat seafood and how easy it is to cook. Fish is perceived as expensive, but if people have the right information, when conditions and prices are right, they will buy it.
The multiplicity of seafood sustainability rating and certification schemes and the way in which they differ, leads to confusion for seafood buyers and consumers. Does Seafish have a role to play in encouraging rationalization of this situation?
Seafish has a role in explaining what all the certification schemes mean. We are currently working on a document to put all the information together and hope this will get rid of confusion about what each one does and does not cover.
We know that consumer recognition of schemes remains poor, but they trust retailers to get sustainability and responsible sourcing right, and we can help them to do this.
In an ideal world, all the schemes would get together, look at where they have synergy and redundancy, and seek to rationalize operations, but they all have commercial drivers so this is unlikely to happen, at least in the short term.
Under current arrangements, Seafish cannot collect a levy on fish with a freshwater growth period. However, farmed salmon is the most popular species for consumers, accounting for one quarter of the volume and one third of the value of the retail fresh fish market. Does this anomaly create a difficulty for the work of Seafish?
My view and that of many in industry, is that you can’t separate one fish from another when talking to consumers about healthy eating, Omega 3 etc., so the reality is that the salmon farming industry benefits from what we do, but does not pay for it.
I believe that the levy should be spread across all species, which means that companies would pay less on each. There would undoubtedly be opposition from the salmon farming industry and importers of fish such as pangasius, but it would be a fairer system. However, to change the system needs a change in primary legislation and it is not currently an immediate priority for the government.