Seafood MAP project aims to make sustainability certification more attainable

Published on
March 31, 2020

For many seafood producers around the world, especially small-scale fishermen and fish farmers in the developing world, a sustainability certification is out of reach.

Despite actively improving the sustainability of their operations, they struggle to meet the thresholds required for certification or a fishery improvement project, or they have trouble filing the needed documentation. And for buyers seeking to actively demonstrate their sustainability commitments, the lack of knowledge about these fisheries leaves them in the dark.

The Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI), along with IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, on 30 March launched a new market and investment program that will create a framework and tool to address sustainability for fisheries that aren’t yet able to seek certification. 

Seafood MAP, which stands for Measuring and Accelerating Performance of global seafood supply, will give global guidance to producers, while creating opportunities for investors to finance sustainable seafood for growing markets in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Currently, about 64 percent of global seafood is neither certified nor part of a fishery improvement or aquaculture improvement project, according to Eva Mudde, a development and innovation officer at GSSI, speaking during the SeafoodSource webinar introducing the program.

"The majority of seafood we do not yet know the performance in terms of what the sustainability is," Mudde said. "There's not always assurance for the seafood industry that the seafood they source is sustainable."

Conceptualization and scoping started in 2017, and this year development will accelerate as pilot projects roll out. The project's standards are based on the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Seafood MAP will result in both a framework for examining sustainability and a practical tool for producers – including small-scale producers and aquaculture operations – to start to make improvements. The framework and tool are meant to work with existing certification schemes by essentially increasing the number of potential producers who can become certified, though the technical details still need to be filled in, Mudde acknowledged.

The project will reach fisheries and producers not currently reached by certification schemes, in particular markets where certification hasn't yet gained traction, Mudde said.

"A core element of what Seafood MAP should do is address local priorities and needs and operate on them," Mudde said. "There are a lot of elements that make it hard to engage directly in the certification process.”

The framework will also include elements not typically included in sustainability certification schemes, such as the carbon footprint of production, the effectiveness of area-based management schemes, or whether a system provides a stable livelihood for people, according to IDH Aquaculture Director Flavio Corsin.

Investors are seeking environmentally sustainable investments that protect and burnish their reputations. Seafood MAP will help them identify those investments. IDH's vision is to see investors and other market players aligned around common definitions of sustainability.

"This isn't about competing with certification, it's about a complementary system," Corsin said during the webinar. "This will not be a prescriptive instrument. It will not tell people what they should do, but it will provide a compass and indicate a direction a partner should be moving.”

Leading seafood companies have announced their support for Seafood MAP, including Sodexo, a global food service provider that seeks sources of seafood with assured sustainability. Certification schemes raise hurdles for some producers, limiting the supply of certified seafood, according to Sodexo Senior Director of Sustainability in Supply Management Judy Panayos.

"That can put small producers at a disadvantage because of the barrier to entry,” Panayos said during the webinar.

Seafood MAP will allow those communities to participate in the bigger market by helping local producers and giving them a path to improvement – or even just showing them how to document current practices. This will give seafood buyers more confidence that the seafood is sustainable.

"When you work with a small local producer and you have many different requirements, whether they be food safety, certifications, supply chain requirements, IT requirements, the more things you ask a small-scale producer to do to work with a large-scale organization, the more challenging it is for them," Panayos said. "A small producer may be very, very sustainable but they don't have someone who specializes in writing documents or producing manuals that would allow them to go after a certification.”

Seafood MAP is meant to close the gap between non-certified fisheries and certified ones. The program will create a roadmap for producers en route to more sustainable production. Only 15 percent of seafood consumed around the world is certified, according to High Liner Foods Corporate Vice President of Sustainability and Government Affairs Bill DiMento.

"This is not intended to be competition to certification and rating schemes seen as effective today. This is meant to be collaborative," DiMento said during the webinar. "The sustainability issues that exist today need to be dealt with in a pre-competitive manner on a global scale."

Photo courtesy of Tjuktjuk/Shutterstock

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