By Gao Fu Mao, Contributing Editor reporting from Beijing, China
Published on Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Han Han is founder and CEO of China Blue, China’s first domestic NGO devoted to assisting the domestic aquaculture sector to move from production based on quantity to a new focus on quality and sustainability.
SeafoodSource: Are you happy with the progress so far of your organization?
Han: Yes, I am happy with the progress, but also feel a lot of pressure as moving forward. That’s normal, I guess, for any start-up.
SeafoodSource: What kind of pressure are you feeling?
Han: The pressure of leading the team with uncertainties in fundraising, partnership development, stakeholder engagement, etcetera.
SeafoodSource: What were your big achievements in 2016?
Han: We’ve launched China’s first seafood sustainability database, called iFISH, which is now a website that hosts about 50 seafood species with quick assessment of their sustainability in a Chinese context. The assessment is made according to a methodology that was jointly developed by CAPPMA [China Aquatic Products Promotion & Marketing Association], Shanghai Ocean University, and China Blue, has been reviewed by leading fishery and aquaculture scientists in China. This marks the first effort by a China-based NGO and industry association in defining [what is] Chinese sustainable seafood, and this echoes government initiatives to strengthen food safety regulation, environmental pollution mitigation and promoting the seafood industry’s transformation from massive production to quality production.
We’ve also made progress with the Hainan tilapia AIP, continued in capacity building for local industry and farmers through trainings and field research to help understand supply chain challenges and needs of improvements. We successfully helped the Hainan Tilapia Sustainability Alliance to connect with leading domestic supermarkets and with the WWF. This will lead to a domestic recognition of the impacts of the AIP [aquaculture improvement program], which might raise more awareness of the necessity of having regional co-op and supply-chain alliances for the sustainable development [of the seafood industry].
SeafoodSource: Can you share some examples of the supply change challenges you refer to?
Han: We have a very fragmented supply chain, dominated by small-scale producers. Low transparency and traceability are also challenges.
SeafoodSource: Do you think it’s important to have a Chinese definition of sustainable seafood? What is different about the Chinese definition compared to other international definitions of sustainable seafood?
Han: Yes, it’s important and necessary to have a Chinese definition of sustainable seafood – which would be preferred by the Chinese government as well – because China is in general is a developing country that needs to secure a growth in economy and ability to feed a huge population. Sustainability is three-fold: economic, environmental and social. Often, international sustainability standards emphasize environmental sustainability but overlook the other two aspects. We believe it is very important to take the economic and social sustainability into account.
SeafoodSource: What are your main goals for 2017?
Han: In 2017, we hope to improve the iFISH database through refining the assessment methodology and data, as well as differentiating iFISH profiles by production places and models. Especially, for aquaculture, we will compile detailed profiles, classified by place and production model, for common species in the Chinese market. We will engage with more retailers and buyers in China, and provide more detailed information for those interested in buying pro-sustainability seafood.
Meanwhile, we will streamline our industry mapping, FIP/AIP incubation and implementation protocols. We hope to develop toolkits that best fits in Chinese context and also incorporate some knowledge from other countries.
More importantly, we hope to continue enhancing our team capacity through not only daily execution of projects and research, but also through highly effective training and workshop. We will jointly organize the second China Ocean Philanthropy Forum with a panel focusing on sustainable fisheries.
SeafoodSource: Is it easy for your organiaation to get financial support from local philanthropy in China to promote sustainable seafood?
Han: Not easy, so far. The awareness of ocean and seafood sustainability issues among Chinese philanthropists is still very low. That’s why we hope to organize such forum to educate Chinese philanthropists and connect them with international counterparts, which might inspire and encourage them to get involved more into this field.
SeafoodSource: What are the big challenges to achieving your goals?
Han: Our big challenges include low awareness and demand of sustainable seafood from the public. Also, the low concentration level of the supply chain. The majority of China’s seafood industry is scattered. There is also a lack of sufficient and talented staff who understand both [the intricacies of] fisheries and supply-chains.
SeafoodSource: Why do you think there is such low awareness, given that environmental protection has become a big political priority in China?
Han: Seafood sustainability is a new term and an abstract concept, not very easily linked to people’s personal life experience. Most consumers in China only care for food safety at present.
SeafoodSource: MSC’s representative in China was chosen as the most influential person in China's seafood industry last month in an online Weixin [Wechat microblog] poll. Does this mean that sustainability is really becoming important in the industry?
Han: In general, MSC along with the WWF and ASC, [have] made a lot of efforts in terms of educating consumers, convincing international brands to make commitments in China’s seafood market. We highly appreciate that. And we can tell that fish farmers also appreciate it. China’s seafood industry has become more aware and familiar with the concept of sustainability. But of course, knowing it does not necessarily mean also knowing how to do it, or when to do it.
SeafoodSource: How can you tell that fish farmers appreciate the educational efforts of Western NGOs?
Han: I’ve been working with tilapia farmers for the past six years in Hainan. I know very well how they responded to me five years ago and how they react today. The difference is evident. They proactively ask for pro-sustainability practices in pond management after they were given training. And they were rewarded by the alliance and the processors for their improvement work. They now understand what sustainable practices really mean and they’ve seen the benefits in reality, for example, lower disease rate, lower cost in buying drugs, etc. And they start appreciating the value of having the alliance as a platform uniting all players and promoting cooperation in a zone.