A SeafoodSource podcast series: The business case for seafood transparency

Published on
July 29, 2019

The demand for greater transparency is growing exponentially by the year in the seafood industry. And with the cost of implementing greater transparency in seafood supply chains steadily decreasing, the seafood marketplace can now realize the numerous benefits of implementing efforts at transparency, including economic efficiencies.

Transparency, by definition, usually refers to the disclosure of information to shareholders, customers, consumers, and regulatory bodies. In general, transparency is the sharing of information with stakeholders outside the supply chain. 

In a three-part podcast series, SeafoodSource explores how customers, consumers, and investors are becoming more inquisitive about catch, production, and processing practices, and how seafood companies are using transparency as a way to build trust with these key stakeholder groups. The series further looks into how governments are driving greater transparency in supply chains by using it as a regulatory tool, through laws like the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and Australia’s and the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Acts. 

The first episode of the series provides an introduction to transparency and an interview with Steve Trent from The Environmental Justice Foundation about the organization’s Charter for Transparency. The program supports the seafood industry by advocating for greater availability of data so companies have the information customers, investors, and governments are asking for. 

The second episode features an interview with Waseem Mardini of Know the Chain, a project using publicly-disclosed information to benchmark companies on their performance. The goal of the project is to create a race to the top regarding how companies address social issues in global supply chains. 

In the final episode, Tania Woodcock of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership discusses the Ocean Disclosure Project, a transparency platform for companies in the seafood supply chain.

The ODP, along with Know The Chain and The Environmental Justice Foundation’s Charter for Transparency, are all examples of the growing impact of greater transparency in supply chains. Studying them provides insight into how transparency can play an important role in making seafood supply chains more competitive in the broader protein market.

For example, recently, the U.K.-based supermarket chain Asda published data identifying the fishing vessels that supply stores with cod, haddock, and plaice. The data is being shared as part of the company’s annual update of its Ocean Disclosure Project profile. The publication marks the first time that a U.K. retailer has begun to identify and publicly disclose information on specific fishing vessels, marking a significant step forward in seafood transparency.

The information that will be released by Asda will include vessel names, International Maritime Organization (IMO) numbers and country of origin. IMO numbers serve as a unique vessel identifier that can be traced back to a vessel even when the vessel changes name, flag, or ownership. Asda is breaking new ground in Transparency with the release of this information on the ODP platform, according to the company’s sustainability director, Chris Brown. 

“Asda has a commitment to transparency in supply chains and seafood is an area where our customers want to know exactly where we find their fish. By providing details around vessels for some species we can begin to take our approach to the next level and provide leadership in the retail sector,” Brown said. “Transparency is the foundation for our relationship of trust with shoppers and we will continue to keep pushing back the barriers to disclosing information about the products we sell.”

The economic benefits of transparency are based on the “symmetry of information,” a concept that applies to all of a product’s attributes. As a seafood buyer, knowing if a product is fresh and when it was caught are examples of where transparency or symmetry of information benefits the market. 

As interest grows in the marketplace for this information, companies face greater risk in not their exposure to illegal, unsustainable, and unethical fishing practices and unethical or unsustainable aquaculture practices. Due in part to greater interest in supply chain practices, seafood companies also face greater risk when they do not know, and cannot communicate, where their product comes from. The growing risk to brand and legally is also driving greater transparency in seafood. 

Tune in to the following episodes to learn how seafood companies are tackling issues surrounding transparency and how they are benefitting from their embrace of transparent practices:

Episode 1: The Charter for Transparency

Episode 2: Know the Chain

Episode 3: The Ocean Disclosure Project

Image courtesy of Africa Studio/Shutterstock

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