Report: Sustainability awareness lacking in Asia


Steven Hedlund

Published on
September 19, 2011

Awareness of sustainable seafood sourcing is seriously lacking among Asia’s investment community across a range of industries, from fishing and aquaculture to hospitality and pharmaceuticals, according to a new report from a Singapore-based independent research firm.

Released in Hong Kong early this month, the report was the basis of a webinar on Tuesday presented by Jenny Blinch, senior editor of Responsible Research and the report’s primary author. Titled “The Future of Fish in Asia: Issues for Responsible Investors” and supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the report is aimed at galvanizing investors to work with their portfolio companies on sustainable seafood sourcing.

The report found that “very few” investors have developed policies to minimize the impact of their investments on marine sustainability. The report analyzed both “direct impact” sectors such as fishing and aquaculture to “indirect impact” sectors such as foodservice and retail in a number of Asian countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Of the 40 “direct impact” companies evaluated, 16 are involved directly in fisheries and 15 are involved directly in aquaculture. Of the 16 fisheries companies, only one-quarter disclose their sustainable seafood initiatives. And of the 15 aquaculture companies, only four failed to do so.

The report also looked at 66 “direct impact” companies in five sectors — foodservice, retail, hospitality, airline and pharmaceuticals. Of those 66 companies, only 25 disclose their supplier policies and only three cite seafood in their supplier policies.

“If we had done the same kind of analysis on the same number of companies from the EU and U.S., I’m sure that there would have been a greater number of companies [that cite seafood in their supplier policies],” said Blinch.

So why are Asian companies lagging when it comes to sustainable seafood sourcing policies, whereas their European and North American counterparts are much more conscious of the issue?

“In general in Asia, sustainability is lacking. You see that across all industries. That’s part of it,” said Blinch.

“With seafood, the consumption patterns are different in Asia. There’s a real prestige associated with seafood. Seafood in West tends to be a fairly function food. [In Asia], especially in the Chinese community, there’s a preference for live seafood, and much of that is reef fish, which is caught using not very environmentally friendly methods,” she explained. “Or take shark fin. There’s a real cultural issue here. There’s a real barrier to overcome. If you don’t serve shark fin soup at your daughter’s wedding, you lose face.”

The main goal of the report, said Blinch, is to raise awareness of marine sustainability among Asia’s investment community.

“In the West, there’s been a rise in marine sustainability as an issue in the popular press. In the UK, for example, there have been a lot of [sustainable seafood] campaigns fronted by celebrity chefs,” she explained. “But we haven’t real seen it touched on yet by the investment community. So what we hope to do is to bring this issue to a new audience. And then, on the other hand, bring it to a new market, i.e. Asia. It’s a lot to tackle with one report. But at least we hope to get the ball rolling [and] gather some real momentum.”

Click here to download the report.

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