The Top 25: Cooke Q&A
Cooke Inc. is featured in The Top 25: Sustainability & Conservation list, published by SeafoodSource on 24 September, 2020. Cooke Vice President of Public Relations Joel Richardson speaks here on behalf of the company.
SeafoodSource: What kind of trends have informed Cooke’s latest sustainability/conservation efforts?
Richardson: ESG REPORTING: We recognize that a rapidly growing proportion of consumers are driving the importance of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting, as they increasingly look to align themselves with products and companies they trust are transparent in their business practices and serve a greater social purpose.
Going forward, Cooke has initiated work on a corporate-wide ESG project. Our focus on ESG will help us better understand the positive impact and manage the risks our operations have on customers, employees, financials, and communities. This will also boost business performance and sales and strengthen our relationships with government regulatory bodies which helps enable future growth.
SUPPORTING RURAL COASTAL COMMUNITIES AND WORKING WATERFRONTS: Glenn Cooke and his family strongly believe that the secret to global success is always thinking local. Rural communities and working waterfronts are very much threatened by global urbanization pressuring youth outmigration, which puts local fishing and aquaculture seafood production at risk. Atlantic Canada and many rural coastal communities around the globe would likely look much different today had it not been for Glenn’s vision, pursuit of growth, and his passion for generating full-time, year-round careers for young people and families in rural communities through each investment, expansion, and acquisition he and his team deliver on.
Cooke helps sustain thousands of small- and medium-size businesses around the world in their supply chain. In Atlantic Canada alone, Cooke buys goods and services from over 1,200 local enterprises spending over CAD 230 million (USD 172 million, EUR 146 million) annually, which supports thousands of full-time, year-round jobs. The company is also partnering with Tribal and First Nations communities in Canada and the U.S. on trout farming operations, which supports local food security, jobs, and economic development.
In addition, the current pandemic situation reminds us all that locally produced food is vital to food security and trade balance and we are very proud of all our people working hard throughout the world who are essential to supply grocery stores with healthy food.
CONSERVATION PROJECTS: As a food producer, we want our customers to feel good about purchasing and consuming our products and we believe our conservation efforts help build our corporate reputation as a world leader in this area. Glenn is personally committed to recovering endangered wild Atlantic salmon on rivers, including the Upper Salmon River, Petitcodiac, and the Miramichi in New Brunswick. He and his team have been working with partners from industry, government, First Nations, and academia to increase the number of spawning salmon and save the species from extinction. Glenn and the Fundy Salmon Recovery partnership built and operate the World’s First Wild Salmon Marine Conservation Farm on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick.
Fundy Salmon Recovery is a true collaboration of community and industry stakeholders working together to protect young salmon and improve their chances of survival when released back to the wild as adults. These efforts are working, and the Upper Salmon River in Fundy National Park is now seeing record salmon returns, higher than most rivers of inner Bay of Fundy salmon population.
This impressive conservation program caught the attention of long-time Cooke customer Samuels Seafood in Philadelphia, who stepped up as the first U.S. Fundy Salmon Recovery partner and for every pound of exclusive Jail Island Salmon that is sold, Samuels donates a portion of proceeds to the Fundy Salmon Recovery project. Cooke is now harnessing our aquaculture expertise to deliver wild salmon recovery programs in Maine and Nova Scotia and exploring opportunities in Washington state in collaboration with Tribal leaders.
In addition, Glenn and his Latin American employees also lead environmentally responsible practices, which go beyond government regulations. For example, Cooke and subsidiary Seajoy Seafood run a sea turtle conservation project with the aim to preserve the species of marine turtles that nest in the Pacific north of Nicaragua. Every year hundreds of nests are established, allowing employees and their families to release thousands of baby turtles back into the environment.
SeafoodSource: What key features serve to set Cooke’s sustainable seafood offerings apart in the market?
Richardson: ORGANIC OFFERINGS: True North Seafood proudly offers organic in a few of our product lines, including our Pacific White Shrimp and Atlantic salmon raised in Scotland. Our organic products are approved by the Soil Association and/or EU Organic. Our feed used is certified organic and our stocking densities are compliant with the organic standard.
RWOA PROGRAM: Our Raised Without Antibiotics (RWOA) program for True North Seafood Atlantic salmon is set to differentiate our offerings in the marketplace. For this specific program, we are particular with our selection process, we only market fish harvested from farms that have had no treatments on the entire site – we do not select fish at the enclosure level.
We follow these fish closely through our processing protocol that uses lot codes for each harvest using a coding system that is linked to Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP). At lot creation, the star status and RWOA status is assigned, which then follows the fish though processing.
Through BAP and breeding advancements, we grow our salmon in optimal conditions using the latest technology. In this optimal rearing environment, we reduce stress on the fish, thus eliminating the need for antibiotics. Vertical integration and quality control is key to managing fish that have been raised without antibiotics. True North also offers Pacific White Shrimp that are raised without antibiotics.
RECYCLABLE PACKAGING: We have launched a number of products in fully recyclable packaging alternatives with multiple customer partners. We are working to increase our offerings of fully recyclable options in the future. For our master cases, we proudly offer recyclable corrugates that do not compromise product integrity and are 100 percent recyclable. Currently, we are transitioning our tray pack items – we recently launched a new tray pack item that is offered only on a recyclable tray and we are excited to roll this out to additional products in the near future.
CERTIFICATIONS: By taking part in third-party certification programs, our team is challenged to go above and beyond our regulatory requirements in all areas of our family of companies. Across various fish and shrimp aquaculture operations globally, Cooke has attained the 4-Star BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) Certification mark, which attests that our True North Seafood products meet the BAP standards on four separate links in the chain of production: freshwater hatcheries, feed mills, sea sites, and processing plants.
SeafoodSource: How does sustainability factor into your overall mission and strategy as a business?
Richardson: Cooke's goal is to lead global aquaculture farming science innovations and sustainable best practices. Marking the companies 35th anniversary in 2020, Glenn has publicly shared his sustainability commitment with customers, employees, government officials and business leaders:
“Ensuring the best care for our oceans and surrounding communities continues to be in the forefront of our sustainable growth strategy. Now more than ever, we believe that our relationship with the marine environment and supporting working waterfronts where both fisheries and aquaculture coexist is vital to our business and to producing top quality seafood. This is key to our mission and it’s because of the hard work and dedication of our people that we are successful. The health of our communities depends on the health of the ocean. For us, staying true to the ocean is how we stay true to ourselves, our community and our future. And that’s why we’re willing to do whatever it takes to ensure long-term social, economic and environmental sustainability.”
Cooke Aquaculture Inc. and all other divisions within the Cooke family of companies have mandated sustainability, environmental, and biodiversity policies enshrined within their operating and reporting practices.
Divisions have put in place Environmental Management Systems in conjunction with our Integrated Management Systems. To demonstrate our environmental credibility, all divisions maintain external certification of these systems. This includes Seajoy shrimp farming in Honduras and Nicaragua, Grupo Culmarex seabass and seabream farming in Spain, salmon farming in Scotland, Chile and North America and our Ocean Beauty Icicle Seafoods wild salmon fishing operations in Alaska.
Cooke has recently hired an additional Vice President of Research & Development with significant credentials as a PhD and MSC in Marine Biology and global expertise in aquaculture incubation, oceantech, cleantech, nanotech, IP protection, hydroponic farming, food manufacturing, environmental and aquaculture research education, aquaculture fuel and feed products, fermentation, and water technology.
A wide array of R&D projects are well underway, including a lumpfish cleanerfish program in collaboration with Memorial University in Newfoundland and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.