By Mark Godfrey, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from Beijing, China
Published on 05 September, 2013
Chinese seafood firms have “a lot of work to do” before Marine Stewardship Council certification takes off in the country, according to the MSC’s chief in Asia, Kelvin Ng. While there are several Chinese firms in pre-assessment the only Chinese firm currently in the certification process is Dalian-based scallops producer-processor Zhangzidao, according to Ng.
Speaking at a seminar on sustainability at the Seafood Expo Asia in Hong Kong, Ng suggested Chinese fisheries firms need advice and support from bodies like MSC, which has deployed experts such as marine biologists in China and other seafood producing countries.
Worldwide, meanwhile, the process of certifying sustainable seafood is coming to a crossroads: “Most of the low hanging fruit has already been certified,” said Ng. Management systems and lack of data across much of the international wild-caught fisheries sector makes expansion of certifications in wild-caught fisheries very difficult, he added.
Transnational fishing companies and large canneries will have to be a new focus of the certification process, according to Russell Dunham, secretary of the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association (FTBOA) that recently secured MSC certification. Much of the focus thus far has been on the F&B sector, according to Dunham.
“We have received a great deal of enquires from the hotel trade in particular, which we never had before…this will hopefully translate into higher prices for us,” said Dunham.
Education of consumers will also be necessary to expand MSC certifications, according to a leading importer and supplier of seafood in Hong Kong and mainland China, Melinda Ng at Worldwide Seafood.
Demand for sustainable seafood is surging in Hong Kong’s hotel trade, she explained. “However at a consumer level purchases are driven by price and taste…sustainability isn’t a factor in customer’s purchasing decisions…there is little awareness of which are sustainable seafood species.”
As seafood consumption increases in China, purchasers in greater China are increasingly looking to sustainable seafood as a guarantee of stability of supply, according to Ng, pointing to enthusiasm for farmed Australian abalone among buyers in wealthy southern China.
Government promotion of the certification process will be vital for further certifications. Ng pointed to the group-certification approach of the government-subsidised Western Australian Fisheries Industry Council (WAFIC) as a possible model for future certifications. Fishery firms under the WAFIC umbrella achieved MSC certification, explained Ng, with MSC then introducing Chinese buyers to the firms (including a group of 20 buyers at Seafood Expo Asia).
“Australian government funded and promoted the certification process since the industry is made up of many small scale companies this was the most effective way of expanding certification. This is also a logical approach given buyers typically source products from a region, such as lobsters or abalone from western Australia,” said Ng.
Aquaculture isn’t the answer to seafood sustainability, argued Ng, who pointed to the large quantities of wild fish required to feed farmed stock. Farming of tuna remains unsustainable, said Dunham, given a feed-to-meat ratio of 22 to 1.
Shellfish species lend themselves well to aquaculture. Ng believes the Zhangzidao certification will eventually happen and points out that the certification process, now several years long, is not unusual, given the certification of a Hokkaido scallops producer took six years.