FOS to top MSC in Asia seafood certification market

Published on
October 16, 2013

Friend of the Sea (FOS) is riding a wave of new interest in environmentalism among Asian retailers, according to its founder and director.

“Things are changing as retailers in Hong Kong and Singapore are requesting their suppliers to be Friend of the Sea certified, while most of these suppliers are from abroad a number are Chinese,” said Paolo Bray, FOS director.

Bray expects “major growth” for FOS among retail and hotel chains in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Shanghai, which will ultimately draw seafood producers and processors into his client base.

“These are more aware of the need for sustainable sourcing. Eventually producing companies will follow.” FOS has conducted in-store marketing in three supermarket chains it’s working with in the region:  Great Food Hall in Hong Kong, the Cold Storage chain in Singapore and the City Super chain which has outlets in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Bray believes FOS will have the edge on Marine Stewardship Council in upcoming Asian demand because it’s “seen more as a certification providing added value rather than an audit imposed by the customer.” The FOS founder is preparing for a new surge in business from China. “We expect that China’s awareness of environmental issues will change dramatically in the next few years and so I believe that any current challenge will become a great opportunity.”

FOS, which certifies both wild and farmed seafood, currently certifies two mainland China-based firms: Peruvian fishoil produced by the China Fishery Group (part of Pacific Andes) is FOS-certified while it also certifies Sinomega Biotech Engineering, a fish oil subsidiary of the Zhejiang Industrial Group. Bray says FOS is currently auditing several other Chinese firms as well as hotel chains in greater China but declines to offer names. In Taiwan, tuna broker FCG has applied for FOS certification for 26 vessels whose catch the firm trades.

Bray is the European director of the Dolphin Safe program run by U.S. Berkley-based NGO Earth Island Institute that has close links to FOS. A tuna company has to be approved Dolphin Safe by the DS EII in order to be authorized to undergo an FOS audit. Some of China’s key tuna players have signed up, among them Shanghai Kaichuang Deep Sea Fisheries Co., Ltd and CNFC Overseas Fishery Co., Ltd — as well as several canneries based in Ningbo, a city on China’s east coast which has been keen to expand its tuna processing industry.

FOS certification demands that, among other things, seafood products should not originate from depleted or recovering stocks and that fishing methods don’t affect the seabed. Earlier criticism by Greenpeace over FOS stringency of its environmental standards as well as transparency are off the mark, says Bray, who notes that it’s been five years since Greenpeace published an assessment on his organization.

“Greenpeace also supports very weak sustainability certification project such as FSC [Forest Stewardship Council], criticized by several other NGOs. Greenpeace’s vision and campaigns on sustainable fisheries has often proved to be based on wrong scientific assumptions, such as the pro pole and line and against Fads campaigns. Tuna RFMOs [Regional Fishery Management Organizations] scientific data indeed shows that the two fishing methods catch the same level of juveniles.”

Bray believes Greenpeace “is not in a position to assess some other NGOs which operate much more in-depth and science based assessments of fisheries operations. Nevertheless, we always take into consideration valid criticisms and undertake necessary improvement measures where necessary.”

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