Seafood2030 Video: A systems approach to sustainable seafood

A headshot of Ned Daly.

When asked what the biggest challenge or barrier is to increasing engagement with sustainable initiatives, seafood industry stakeholders overwhelmingly reference the complexity of issues, organizations, tools, and projects involved in sustainable seafood.

Many seafood companies view seafood sustainability as a bewildering jumble of organizations, often loosely connected by niche issues or geography. This perspective provides little understanding of how the seafood sustainability system works and, unfortunately, offers vague guidance on how to actively participate in the movement.

One method that can help companies cut through the issue’s complexity is a systems approach to sustainability. This method entails simply thinking about how collective efforts in sustainable seafood drive change.

Many companies in varying industries take a systems approach when outlining their own production, not focusing on each employee and their tasks but, rather, the flow of products, money, or information that comprise the systems, which, in turn, comprise their operations as a whole. Thinking about a company as a set of systems allows decision-makers to improve and refine those systems.

One variable for decision-makers to consider when taking a systems approach to a business decision is the leverage their business has over a market or situation, which influences the appropriate strategy to take, metrics for success to reference when making a decision, and the innovation needs of carrying out that decision.

The sustainable seafood system operates the same way, with leverage dictating strategies, metrics for success, and innovation needs. Not only does this emphasis on leverage help companies understand what part they can play, but it can also alert the entire industry to sustainability approaches that are failing and require improvement or complete abandonment.

For example, the seafood industry and the sustainable seafood system currently have very low leverage to impact global climate change.

Climate change is a significant challenge with several factors at play outside of seafood, and most existing sustainability tools, such as fishery improvement projects (FIPs), certifications, and audits, focus on seafood supply chains, rarely helping the industry in becoming a valued player in drafting global climate policy.

Considering the low leverage the seafood industry has regarding climate change, the innovative need in this case is “development.” In other words, the seafood industry needs to develop new models to influence climate policy and reduce the threats and volatility climate change brings to seafood.

The metrics for success, meanwhile, to focus on when trying to address a low-leverage issue like climate change should reward learning, experimentation, and innovative development. Instead, the industry often disproportionately values metrics like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that highlight solely improving the climate impact of internal operations.

Efforts to reduce the seafood industry’s impact on climate change are essential, but these metrics undervalue outside-the-box approaches to address the impact of climate change on the seafood industry, such as the North Atlantic Pelagic Advisory Group’s initiatives and the SAPO Project.

If one were to view the industry’s present approach to climate change through a systems lens, they would see that companies are instituting changes from an individual organization or supply chain level, rather than building an overarching, innovative strategy that truly supports a climate-resilient industry.

The video is 25 minutes long and can be found here: Seafood2030 Video: How a systems approach to sustainability can benefit your company

For more detailed insight into how a systems approach can be beneficial for seafood sustainability, check out this Seafood2030 video on the topic.


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