Joint Packard and Walton Family Foundation report identifies five key seafood sustainability focus areas

A new report from the Packard and Walton Family Foundations has identified five key areas of focus that the seafood industry would need to build upon to develop demand in emerging sustainability markets in Latin America and Asia, Walton Family Foundation (WFF) Senior Program Officer Teresa Ish said during the Latin American Summit for Fishing and Aquaculture Sustainability.

Ish – who manages grants for WFF’s Environment Program, which leverages the power of the supply chain to advocate for more sustainable fisheries – was referring to the new report, “The Strategy Behind Sustainable Seafood Philanthropy – A Briefing for Industry from the Packard and Walton Family Foundations,” which was a joint evaluation of the two foundations’ Global Seafood Markets strategies. The report reviews the progress made over the past twenty years in the global sustainable seafood movement, and identifies the challenges that lie ahead.

While the report did not focus on Latin America as a market in the evaluation, it is believed strategies that worked for more developed markets – such as the U.S. and Europe – can be adjusted to local realities and adapted for the rest of the world. The five areas of focus are:

  1. Enforcement: A key tool to ensure the sector is following the rules. “Whether this is compliant with catch limit or combating illegal fishing, these are corner stones to building a sustainable supply of fish. We need to ensure that the rules that we have in place are actually being applied and followed,” Ish said.
  2. Local capacity: According to the report, having organizations closer to the water that can engage in sustainability of their own fisheries is more effective than having international organizations working on the ground for a short while, and then leaving to return to their home country. Ish noted the importance of empowering local industry, local NGOs, and local fishing communities in order to manage sustainability of their own countries.
  3. Transparency: “Sustainability is not something you can see by just looking at a product. Having transparency and traceability are critical if we’re going to make claims on sustainability,” Ish said. This includes information about how a product was produced and how the fishers were treated in that process – information handled by those who define sustainability, be that via government certification or internal purchasing policy. Having this, as well as a standard to compare it against, is critical in defining if the fishery is sustainable.
  4. Government capacity: If the governments that are tasked with managing these shared resources lack the capacity or ability to manage the fisheries effectively, achieving the goal of sustainable fishing is unlikely. “It’s important for governments to work with fisheries for the long-term financial wellbeing of communities, while also helping the environment. The two are intricately linked,” Ish said.
  5. Market infrastructure: The report states this is critical to understanding what the industry and the supply chain look like, so as to identify the middlemen and end-buyers and track progress on sustainability, ensuring transparency to signal the demand for sustainable seafood.

“Our evaluation really looked at the Latin American region as a producer rather than a market. So the data here comes from the production side. As a producer, many fisheries in Latin America are responding to demand for sustainable seafood. In the past five years, we’ve seen rapid growth in the number of fisheries in this region, and fishery projects are earning certification,” Ish said. “Three countries – Mexico, Peru and Chile – have been a focus of the Walton Family Foundation strategy for the last five years. Our partners on the ground – industry, NGOs and government – have been instrumental in seeing wild capture seafood production certification grow.”

At the same time, the evaluation raises the issue of whether fishing communities are actually benefiting from sustainable sourcing. Ish called on the sustainable seafood movement to better understand who is bearing the cost of transitioning these fisheries to sustainability, and who gets the benefit.

“It’s important to recognize that it can’t be about a price premium only at the end. We also have to recognize that those fishers who are closest to the water are the ones that have to make a lot of changes in their practices, and therefore have an undue burden in helping to transition to sustainability,” she said. “But they also have a lot to gain – when the fisheries are sustainable, they spend less effort fishing, they have higher yields and that helps them be more profitable as well. We have short-term needs that we have to address to be able to share the costs and benefits throughout the supply chain.”

Ish made special mention of Northern Europe, which is looking to level the playing field for sustainable seafood products, as can be seen in entities such as the Global Tuna Alliance, which primarily groups United Kingdom tuna importers and retailers; as well as Calamasur, a Spanish organization of squid importers who are working to change the policies and management around squid, not just in one supply chain, but across the fishery.

“The big question that we have – not only in our work in the U.S., Europe and increasingly Japan, but globally – is how do we move to that level playing field?” Ish said. “It’s something we need to be figuring out together because it’s not limited from one market to the next. It requires different markets working together – supply chain is global. But we do have models that we can build on. These paths are repeated over and over again, so learning from one another is an important part to getting to those goals.”

Currently, more than 90 percent of the North American retailer market and more than 85 percent of the Northern European retailer market have a commitment to sustainable seafood. On a global level, 35 percent of global seafood production is certified; has been rated red, yellow, or green to indicate its level of sustainability; or is in a fishery improvement project (FIP). Industry uptake of these tools has increased over time, with the seafood industry now paying for most certification costs and local seafood companies now running the majority of FIPs.

“My hope is that Latin America can learn from the markets further down the path and use the tools and momentum that comes from the interconnected supply chain to quickly move to widespread adoption of sustainability,” Ish said. “We can get to that level playing field together; if we don’t, I’m concerned that we won’t get to the scale we need to have healthy fish stocks and a flourishing fishery industry.”

Photo by Chris Chase/SeafoodSource


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