Seafood Summit offers hope, ideas, dialogue & solutions for future of fish

By

Ed Cassano

Published on
February 1, 2011

Vancouver screams sophistication. It has down to earth sensibility, natural beauty, a rich history and a deep, ageless connection to the land and sea. It is this last asset that makes Vancouver the perfect setting for Sea Web’s 2011 Seafood Summit.

This is my third summit and my hat is off to SeaWeb for yet again convening what I feel is the leading conference in the world on the future of fish. Where else can you find a broad spectrum of the seafood industry, NGO’s, academics, government officials, chefs, First Nations, environmentalists, media, funders and seafood producers all together participating in a respectful, thoughtful and science-based dialogue? If you are in Vancouver this week, you will find members of each of these groups doing just that at the 2011 Seafood Summit.  

Sunday was a spectacular day in Vancouver as conference attendees registered and attended pre-conference panels. Often, the most successful conferences are reflected in the relationships, collaboration and synergies that are built and reinforced in small meetings before, between and after the presentations. Connections are being made in the lobby, during a long (and cold) walk, or perhaps (and more than likely) over a glass of wine. Judging by the number of just such gatherings I witnessed on Sunday, the conference was on its way to success.

One of the leading seafood events of the year, the conference boasts over 700 participants, 30 sessions, 100 speakers, inspirational and spiritual offerings, the world’s leading experts discussing the issues we face today and tomorrow and, of course, fabulous wine and sustainable seafood. There is only one problem: as I review the panels I want to hear them all, but I cannot be in three places at once. 

Of all the events that I was able to attend, I think the opening sequence was particularly memorable. It truly illustrated the collaborative, cross-sector nature of the conversation on the future of fish. The conference launched on Monday with SeaWeb’s Melanie Siggs welcoming the conference attendees and facilitating an inspiring and compelling plenary session that set the tone of the conference.

The session began with a welcome by Audrey Rivers, Elder of the Squamish nation. Audrey oriented attendees to the four cardinal directions and the First Nations that call Vancouver home. The mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, then helped everyone appreciate the grandeur, beauty and innovative spirit of his city. Mayor Robertson shared his own epiphany on the state of the world’s oceans by relating an encounter with a high seas drift net on a trans-Pacific sail with his wife. 

Mayor Robertson was followed by Henry Demone, President and CEO of High Liner Foods. Henry relayed his youth in Nova Scotia and his own personal connection to the sea and the fisherman who put seafood on our plate. He reminded us that the food from the sea is a “gift from nature” and asked us to see seafood as something beyond just fish and as “communities and people”.  

Representing the business side of the seafood industry, Henry stated that “sustainability is good for business” in both the short and long-term. Henry reminded us that High Liner has been in the seafood business for over 100 years and that they intend to be in it for many more. For this to happen there must be fish to catch and sell. High Liner’s commitment to source sustainably produced fish and their active support for fishery improvement projects provides a long-term business strategy that will be good for High Liner, good for the fishing communities and good for the oceans. 

Lastly, Henry introduced Yvon Chouninard, Co-founder of Patagonia and One Percent for the Planet, the final plenary speaker. Yvon talked about his personal revelation about sustainability, recounting when employees became sick from the chemicals found in cotton t-shirts Patagonia was selling. Yvon embarked upon a mission to understand the entire supply chain that provided raw materials to finished products. He discovered the scorched fields of traditional cotton farming and the challenge of processing cotton grown organically. In the end, working with innovative suppliers and manufactures, his products now provide a sustainably produced and healthier alternative for apparel and provide an example of a tremendously successful business model.  An accidental businessman, Yvon suggested that by asking questions and leading an “examined life”, we will receive the “education [that] gives us choices”, choices that will allow us to make a difference.

Conservation orginazations, First Nations, government officials and two businesses who sell very different products but have still arrived at the same conclusions, all made an affirmative and resounding case for embracing sustainability on land and of course, our main focus for the week, in the oceans. The diversity of the plenary session speakers was a reminder of the widespread importance the future of fish has for people, communities and the businesses that serve them.

Mapping a path to sustainably fished oceans isn’t all grand epiphanies and good food & wine. It will take hard work, commitment, risk and everything else that it takes to shake up the status quo. As someone who has committed my working life to ocean conservation, this can seem daunting. That’s one more reason why it’s so important to come together with people who share the same goals, in a safe space that provides inspiration, celebration and acknowledgement of the challenges ahead of us. I hope that, like myself, all the conference participants go home at the end of the week with a renewed commitment to sustainable seafood and the future of fish.

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