Op-ed: Seafood2030 report: A new paradigm for sustainable seafood strategies

Ned Daly is a sustainability strategist with Diversified Communications. He has worked on sustainable markets in a variety of resources for 25 years, including a decade with SeaWeb.

Over the last 20 years, the seafood industry has made significant improvements in the management and sustainability of seafood resources. This progress is paying off, as seafood is increasingly recognized for its positive contributions to human health and to sustainable, climate-friendly food systems.

Despite decades of progress, the pace, scale, and complexity of challenges and threats to responsible resource management seem to be increasing. 

When Seafood2030 asked seafood industry stakeholders what the biggest challenge or barrier was to increase engagement with sustainability, the answer typically emphasized the complexity of issues, organizations, tools, and projects involved in sustainable seafood. The seafood industry is certainly not alone in tackling this challenge. The concept of “polycrisis,” or the challenge of addressing complex and interconnected global threats, is increasingly recognized in investment banking, risk management, and global economic dialogues as a growing problem for companies.

Seafood2030 recently released the reportA New Paradigm for Sustainable Seafood Strategies,” which BounceBeyond helped develop, concluding three years of research and stakeholder engagement to better understand how the seafood industry can more efficiently and effectively address the complex and intertwined threats to the seafood industry and its resources.

The report recommends nine activities that collectively represent a paradigm shift in sustainability – from a firefighting strategy focused on individual supply chain interventions to a systems approach that supports greater industry leadership and innovation in addressing sustainability challenges.

A systems approach also helps industry players sift through the complexity of sustainability by creating a framework through which they can better understand how the aggregation of efforts in sustainable seafood is working, sometimes in tandem and sometimes as opposing forces.

Over the coming months, Seafood2030 will be exploring these issues and how leading companies, pre-competitive collaborations, and industry partners are developing new models to support a resilient and responsible seafood industry, helping to differentiate seafood as a healthy, responsible protein choice.

The nine recommendations collectively representing a paradigm shift in sustainability are as follows:

1.  Support the emerging transformation system change paradigm. Sustainable seafood efforts fit into one of four change paradigms:

  • Freedom of the seas (everything up to the 1950s)
  • Government leadership (1950s through the 1980s)
  • Multi-stakeholder strategies (1990s to today)
  • Whole sustainable seafood transformation system strategies (the 2020s onward)

The new paradigm is emerging because of the expansion of issues associated with “sustainable seafood” and shortcomings related to the multi-stakeholder paradigm. The new paradigm focuses on whole systems thinking and approaches that are distinctive from the multi-stakeholder strategy. It has enormous potential, but it also requires deep innovation in mental models, strategies, tools, processes, and structures.

2.  Use vision and values as the collaborative foundation. Powerful whole system collective action relies on shared vision and values. However, rather than thinking of a grand vision and value system for the whole system, a transformation system strategy emphasizes the importance of continual evolution, aiming to deepen, adapt, and broaden the vision and values. Alignment emerges through continual iterations to make the vision and values relevant to diverse circumstances while incorporating realities surrounding the broader whole system. They have specific definitions appropriate for a particular time and place to provide the basis for collective action, continually adjusted as those actions clarify possibilities. 

3.  Act on the sustainable seafood transition as a dilemma resolution. Sustainable seafood action requires the current system to maintain the financially sound production of seafood while simultaneously undergoing transformation. Unlike paradoxes that require “living with” tensions, these dilemmas must require attention and action, or seafood systems can collapse.

4.  Organize around issue systems. Issues, such as traceability, artisanal fisheries, and climate change provide a potent focus for organizing subsystem components of the sustainable seafood system. Many initiatives already include themes around some of the issues identified. Fostering collaborative action generates greater power to address them with a more effective use of resources. Their development as “subsystems” of the whole transformation system will lead to capacity for whole system action.

5.  Address deep systems challenges. Six impediments commonly arise for transformation efforts: the need to develop innovation systems, new finance approaches, an evaluation-as-learning systems approach, new governance and organizing structures, deep collaboration, and new narratives. These are of such scale and importance that a single initiative is not sufficient to address them. They require work by the transformation system as a whole. The report identified all of these deep systems challenges as impediments to seafood transformation, but the report also identified the development of innovation systems and associated capacities as a priority to combat them.

6.  Create an evaluation-as-learning framework. Metrics, one of the deep systems challenges, has a particularly important role in transitioning to the transformation system change paradigm. Beyond a species-focused, evaluation-as-accountability framework, an evaluation-as-learning framework emphasizes a systems impact. That shift supports the basic experimental dynamic of transformation and guides initiatives to increase their contribution to the effectiveness of transformation efforts as a whole system.

7.  Generate systemic action benefits. Shifting to a transformation system paradigm will only occur if those in the system can see and develop tangible improvement. Commonly referred to as creating “synergies,” these can take eight different forms. Generating such benefits requires mapping and describing systems so their participants can see the relationship of their activity to others’ and understand their system’s or subsystem’s dynamics. The transformation evaluation approach is critical for this.

8.  Design adaptive pathways. Rather than planning projects actions within a largely understood and accepted framework, a design approach that develops frameworks is appropriate for transformation processes. Adaptation supports the incorporation of learning. Pathways provide directions for multi-methodological/multi-strategy action based upon an understanding at a particular point. The three provide a firm basis for developing the power of the sustainable seafood system.

9.  Commit to learning. Entering a new paradigm is difficult and confusing. Historic concepts accepted as foundational may be thrown out the window. A new language is necessary. The new ideas and actions to support them may seem confusing and opaque. Experiencing sustainable seafood as a whole system transformation requires perseverance and audacity. Our future depends on it.


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