Q&A: Pivotal year for Dialogues

By

Steven Hedlund

Published on
January 25, 2010

Jose Villalon, director of the World Wildlife Fund’s aquaculture program in Washington, D.C., talks to SeafoodSource about why 2010 is such a pivotal year for Aquaculture Dialogues, a process the WWF initiated in 2004. Here’s part one of a two-part Q&A; part two will run on Wednesday.

Hedlund: The Tilapia Aquaculture Dialogue’s standards for sustainable tilapia farming were finalized in December. Has tilapia set the tone for the other seven sets of standards (shrimp, salmon, trout, pangasius, bivalves, abalone, and seriola and cobia), which are due to be finalized by year’s end?
Villalon: I do think the tilapia standards set the tone, but only to demonstrate that, yes, it can be done; that a consensus can be reached with a diverse set of stakeholders. Tilapia will not dictate the content tone of the standards, because each dialogue has its own governing body and set of stakeholders that are developing their own indicators and standards. A lot of critics out there said we’d never finish because it’s just an academic process.

Why does it take years for the Aquaculture Dialogues to develop and finalize standards?
That’s a great question, and it kind of fits into the transparency of the process. If you’re truly transparent and multi-stakeholder, it just takes time. You can’t have the best of both worlds of being quick as well as transparent and multi-stakeholder.

How important is transparency and involving all stakeholders in the Aquaculture Dialogues process?
Transparency and multi-stakeholder involvement are essential. It is actually the characteristic that sets these standards apart from the rest. To be able to count over 2,000 proactive participants over the past four-and-a-half years, that’s quite a feat. And this is the first time any global aquaculture standards have been created with those references. We are proud that these standards are environmentally and socially rigorous, yet they are attainable.

Are seafood buyers becoming more involved in the Aquaculture Dialogues?
Buyers are starting to come on board in greater numbers, supporting the dialogues now that standards are being finalized. It’s giving producers confidence that the work they do to adopt the standards will ultimately be rewarded in the marketplace. Sysco, Metro Group, Royal Ahold — to name a few — have already come out publicly in support of the Dialogues. Probably not as much as we’d like, but it’s not because of lack of interest. They’re just waiting for the standards to come out before they officially commit to them.

Do you see the Aquaculture Dialogues and the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices as competitors? And, if so, will the competition help advance the sustainable aquaculture movement?
We think there’s room for more than one standard in the marketplace. We agree that there’s a step-wide approach to this. You can enter the sustainability scenario at the entry level. I’m thinking of a retailer asking his supply chain, “Let’s go about this with a step-wide approach to improvement.” So enter in at an entry level, Level A, and then over time ultimately move up to a more rigorous environmental and social standard, Level B. We have a great partnership with GlobalGAP that allows for just that.

If there’s room for more than one set of standards, then is there a need to harmonize the certification process because audits can be costly and time consuming for farmers?
Ultimately, we would like to see simplification in the certification process. I think it’s unacceptable that a producer is asked to certify for different labels and has to foot the bill for each of them. Competition always helps. I have no doubt. In fact, the GAA has stated several times that WWF has been instrumental in moving it to improve. So, yes, there’s a vacuum effect here, and the bar is being raised.

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