Ahold Delhaize’s Hugo Byrnes: Inclusivity essential to increasing the world’s supply of sustainable seafood

Hugo Byrnes, vice president of product integrity at Ahold Delhaize.

Seafood MAP – launched by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) and IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, to aid the acceleration of sustainability efforts within fisheries and for aquaculture ventures not currently reached by certification schemes ­­ ­– is now in the crucial implementation stage.

Hugo Byrnes, the vice president of product integrity at Dutch multinational supermarket company Ahold Delhaize – a long-time supporter of GSSI, the Seafood MAP program, and a member of the GSSI Steering Board – shared his thoughts with SeafoodSource on how the seafood space must work to support non-certified producers as well as those that have already achieved sustainability certification.

SeafoodSource: First and foremost, can you explain what Seafood MAP is, who it’s for, how it works, and why GSSI and its partners sought to develop such a platform?

Byrnes: Organizations and companies across all sectors around the world have commitments to sustainability. In the seafood sector, those commitments are to promote healthy oceans and a lasting seafood supply that meet global demand. Certifications, ratings, and fisheries and aquaculture improvement projects are all key tools for increasing seafood sustainability. That is why GSSI developed the Global Benchmark Tool ­– providing formal recognition of seafood certification schemes which aim to minimize the overall environmental impact of how we produce, catch and supply seafood. Unfortunately, these tools are not a universal solution. For example, producers in developing countries often lack the means or incentives to share and improve their sustainability performance. That is where Seafood MAP comes in, and that is why GSSI, with support from IDH, the FAO, and UNIDO, sought to develop it. Seafood MAP was created to push for more sustainable seafood for everyone, including those that for whatever reason do not have access to the key tools that are currently available.

Seafood MAP stands for Measuring and Accelerating Performance of global seafood supply. It’s a globally inclusive digital platform to compile and accelerate fisheries and aquaculture efforts on the pathway to sustainability. The platform can be used to assess the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture production systems, make commitments in sourcing non-certified seafood coupled with continuous improvement, inform development, investment, and capacity-building programs based on local needs and priorities, and collaborate with other stakeholders using a common language. It will be available to every actor in the seafood industry, including producers, buyers and investors, governments, non-profits, NGOs and development agencies.

SeafoodSource: What is the importance of GSSI and Seafood MAP?

Byrnes: GSSI is comprised of over 100 stakeholders working together in a pre-competitive manner, all working toward a shared vision of more sustainable seafood for everyone. GSSI aligns global efforts and resources to address seafood sustainability challenges through a global partnership and several benchmarking programs. These include:

  • The Global Benchmark Tool – to provide confidence in certified seafood and promote improvement in certification schemes
  • The Social Benchmarking Tool, developed in collaboration with the Consumer Goods Forum Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative - ensuring confidence in social compliance certifications and programs for seafood
  • Seafood MAP – a framework to build capacity for continuous improvement efforts of the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of seafood

GSSI works to translate international guidance documents into business language and drive pre-competitive sector alignment, an essential component on the path towards global sustainable seafood. GSSI has a unique partnership with the UN FAO, and that helps to bridge the gap between public and private sector efforts. For Ahold Delhaize, this combination of activities helps us to offer a 100 percent sustainable seafood offering in every country where we have supermarkets.

SeafoodSource: What is the current status of Seafood MAP and what is coming in the months/years ahead?

Byrnes:  In 2020 and into 2021, the Seafood MAP framework was drafted with the SDGs at its core, and stakeholder consultations took place to sharpen the framework using their expertise and experiences. Building on this development phase, Seafood MAP is now in its implementation phase. The aim is to have the full functional design of the digital portal, consisting of content, user experience, and platform requirements ready by the end of 2022. Follow by the launch of version 1.0 in 2023, a fully functioning digital platform. To do this, GSSI will be partnering with a specialized organization to accelerate the process and Ahold Delhaize will be involved in this critical stage. The platform will be first populated with the pilot projects that are currently carried out by members of the Seafood MAP Taskforce, a team consisting of 26 GSSI partners who are proactively contributing to the implementation of Seafood MAP. If we work together, we can create efficient solutions. In the coming year there will be a lot of opportunities for this, so we’re hoping that others will join in on the journey.

SeafoodSource: Can you explain the role of the Seafood MAP Taskforce, who is involved, and what it is mandated to do?

Byrnes: The Seafood MAP Taskforce was created to mobilize GSSI Partners from around the world to be integrally involved in the development, testing, and implementation of Seafood MAP. The Taskforce is comprised of members who represent various fundamental segments of the seafood sector, including NGOs, non-profit organizations, international development agencies, investors, and the private sector. The Taskforce members come together to champion Seafood MAP and collectively work towards a shared vision that the program will do what it has been set up to do. We are committed to proactively participating and contributing to the development of the program while supporting the testing and implementation of it.

SeafoodSource: What are the main challenges facing the Taskforce, and what opportunities are they expected to leverage?

Byrnes: A continuing challenge we are facing right now is to operate in a virtual setting without any in-person meetings. This program development requires a lot of brainstorming and hands-on style thinking, something that at times can be difficult to facilitate over video calls. There is also the challenge of building case studies on the ground in different regions of the world with all the travel restrictions we are currently experiencing. That being said, we are still confident that these challenges can be overcome, given the enthusiasm to date and the fact that 10 pilots generated results in the first phase of testing.

There are definitely opportunities the Taskforce will leverage. First off, generating Seafood MAP buy-in in the sector, both globally and regionally. This is done by asking partners to sign the Seafood MAP Pledge to voice support for its implementation and to encourage future use, by hosting Seafood MAP workshops in partner networks (e.g. with suppliers, local stakeholders, and sustainability partners), and also by being among the first to populate version 1.0 of Seafood MAP with case studies from all over the world. In addition to this, the Taskforce is accelerating the development of the Seafood MAP platform, by helping to finalize shaping the criteria to the SDGs and FAO guidelines, and to develop and test the user experience of the platform.

SeafoodSource: Where has Seafood MAP been tested thus far, and what was learned from those trials?

Byrnes: The pilot projects began in June 2021 and are now being carried out in places all over the globe. The first results have helped sharpen the Seafood MAP criteria, and future pilots will help specify the functionalities of the digital platform. GSSI partners are running pilots in places such as Uganda, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, the Southeast Caribbean, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Panama, and Spain. Each pilot is set up with a goal in mind, for example, improvement in education and training of fisher people for nautical fishing or promotion of sustainable fishing practices and reduction of IUU fishing. All these goals will eventually be shared on the digital platform, where users from around the world can connect and share similar goals that they may have or give suggestions based on their own experiences and knowledge. This connection by goal sharing is highly valuable, and these pilot projects are only the beginning.

SeafoodSource: What is the digital portal is and how it will work?

Byrnes: The digital portal is currently in its development stage. It will be a space where all seafood industry actors can share their sustainability goals or journeys and promote their sustainability practices within the seafood sector. The portal will also provide a visual tool to map local and regional projects with sustainability objectives anywhere in the world. Seafood MAP will bring together as many seafood actors as possible on a single, unique, and transparent platform to enable opportunities and growth in the sector. Users will start by creating a profile where they can share their goals and explain their sustainability journey [or their] sourcing or investment commitments. From there, they can connect with other users who have similar goals and interest.

Along the way, users can understand and track their sustainability performance while learning from each other. Users can add their sustainability milestones to their profiles and demonstrate their achievements and efforts. The more users that are registered and using the platform, the more opportunities for growth and development there will be.

At Ahold Delhaize, for those species for which certified product is not available, we can ask our suppliers to register on Seafood MAP to have a baseline, from which we can work with them and encourage continuous improvement towards a standard that is in line with international aquaculture and fisheries criteria established by the FAO, and with our sourcing commitments.

SeafoodSource: How exactly does Seafood MAP tie in with the ambitions of the FAO and the U.N. SDGs?

Byrnes: Like GSSI’s Global Benchmark Tool, all reporting in Seafood MAP is based on the FAO’s internationally recognized guidelines, including the SDGs, the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries. With Seafood MAP, GSSI mainstreams the SDGs within the seafood sector, making the playing field more inclusive, and creates common goals on environmental, social, and economic sustainability that the sector can collaboratively work towards, both globally and locally.

SeafoodSource: How important is it that the seafood space is inclusive – comprising non-certified products as well as certified?

Byrnes: At the end of the day, we are all on the same team – we all want a future where there is a healthy ocean and where seafood is available for everyone as a means of a sustainable income and as a healthy source of nutrition. As there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to the sustainability challenges in the seafood space, the seafood space must be inclusive of both non-certified and certified seafood. It is a complex matter and there are numerous factors at play here, including lack of accessibility to sustainability tools, lack of means, income, and incentive. It can be easy to undervalue how important the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture is when your life does not depend on it, but for approximately one in 10 people in the world, this is the reality. Seafood is one of the most globally traded food commodities - can you imagine a world without it? So yes, the seafood space needs to be inclusive and sustainability solutions need to keep underlying complexities in mind, not only for us to achieve the SDGs but to help ensure people all over the world have a healthy future when it comes to seafood.

SeafoodSource: From the perspectives of buyers, sellers, and end-consumers, how is trust built and upheld when it comes to non-certified fisheries and aquaculture products?

Byrnes: Trust is built and upheld with hard work, commitment, and effective communication. It can be easier for buyers, sellers, and consumers to look at a certification label and understand that the seafood is sustainably sourced. When it comes to non-certified seafood, there is a higher level of uncertainty, and this is understandable. It is a difficult task to assess the sustainability in small-scale and non-certified fishery and aquaculture production. For example, a small-scale producer may source their seafood sustainably and put a lot of effort into this, but the message of the sustainable sourcing can get lost from the farm to the market. Small-scale fishers engage with many different markets and their seafood may pass through many hands before it reaches the end-consumer. A tricky situation, but there are always opportunities to increase our knowledge and learn about initiatives that are working with non-certified seafood to drive improvement and help small-scale producers with their sustainability efforts. This is where Seafood MAP comes in. The more effort we put into initiatives like these, the more trust we can build and uphold in buyers, sellers, and consumers.

SeafoodSource: In your opinion, where will Seafood MAP have the most immediate impact, and where do you see it being the most impactful in the long-term?

Byrnes: I believe the most immediate impact of the platform will be to build meaningful connections between buyers and suppliers, based on shared sustainability goals and values. As I just mentioned, for markets and species where certification is currently not available, this platform can be a highly influential tool right from the beginning because of these connections. The longer-term impact will be a more inclusive seafood sustainability playing field with increased participation from small-scale actors and more transparency on sustainability efforts taking place globally, an increase of the demand for sustainable seafood, and an increase of investment (e.g. by market and finance communities) to help the sector get to that place of sustainability. This will also result in improved livelihoods and better access to markets and finance for producers, in developing countries particularly. All of this is required to accelerate the commitment of the seafood sector to the Agenda 2030 and the U.N. SDGs.  

Photo courtesy of Ahold Delhaize


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