Quentin Marchais of ClientEarth discusses the evolution of sustainability in the Spanish retail seafood sector

Quentin Marchais of ClientEarth

Quentin Marchais serves as the lead for food systems, oceans, and land-use efforts with ClientEarth – the driving force behind the development of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition UK, a precompetitive collaboration comprising U.K. retailers and seafood companies. 

SeafoodSource interviewed Quentin Marchais, who previously led ClientEarth’s seafood work in Spain, to discuss how the Spanish seafood and retail sectors are advancing their sustainability agendas.

SeafoodSource: The Sustainable Seafood Coalition developed a successful model to support alignment among retailers in the U.K., which created efficiencies for the uptake of sustainable practices and products for companies. Why did you take a different path in Spain?

Marchais: There are a number of things that make the Spanish market different from the U.K., which meant the need to design an approach to engage the Spanish marketplace that reflected the strong cultural, economic, and political importance of seafood.

Culturally, seafood is in Spain’s DNA. Throughout the country, there is a strong reverence for fishermen and fishing communities along the large Spanish coast. Economically, seafood is a significant employer nationally, especially in areas like Galicia, the Basque country in the North, and in Andalucía in the South.

Both the size of the industry and the influence Spain has in E.U. fisheries policy add up to opportunities and challenges for engaging the Spanish marketplace around sustainability issues. Another difference from our U.K. work was that in Spain we were working almost exclusively with the retail sector, given their influence as major buyers in supply chains. We were also working with the three main associations of retailers in Spain, together with the association of small shopkeepers selling fish, that cover close to 100 percent of the marketplace. This was a great opportunity to help the industry move forward collectively.

SeafoodSource: Trade associations can be a challenge to work with because you need buy-in from their entire membership. Why have you taken this approach in your work?

Marchais: This is true, but trade associations can also be a partner and a good entry point to the broader industry. The associations want to guide their members on new legislation and regulatory requirements and help them manage legal, financial, and reputational risks. The development of E.U. legislation, such as the E.U.’s proposal for a corporate sustainable due diligence directive and a corporate sustainability reporting directive, are moments where we have interacted with trade associations and their members to help them understand what these developments will mean for their members. We explain that early movers, who have excellent traceability systems and have systems in place to clearly map their supply chains and collect information, will ultimately benefit, as they will be in a good place once the requirements of legislation being developed under the E.U. Green Deal will come into force. 

The E.U. is moving towards more transparency, more traceability, and more accountability in value chains. This is good for the resource, for the consumers, and for businesses. In that context, the associations have also been a good link for both collecting information and disseminating information to members in a very fragmented supply chain. Our discussions with the retailer associations have also been helpful in understanding trends in the sector and how priorities are shifting.

The biggest benefit was the ability to share knowledge with the industry on sustainability issues – to be the key link between the group of businesses and other sustainability partners. Our goal was to put sustainability of seafood much higher on their agenda, and I think we managed to do that.

SeafoodSource: Spain seems to have a high level of influence on E.U. policy. Do you expect your work in Spain to have an impact beyond the Spanish market?

Marchais: Yes, the Spanish value chain is huge – in tuna, in canned fish. When it comes to catch, Spain holds a significant chunk of E.U. quota and has the largest [distant-]water fleet. These elements combined make Spain a very influential E.U. fishing nation. If we want to advance better traceability and better controls of imports in the E.U., for example, Spain’s support can be key strategically in moving these issues forward. 

Beyond E.U. policy, the size of the Spanish seafood industry gives it influence on global supply chains. Spain has a very large processing sector and some of the largest seafood companies in the world In short, Spain has much clout in the seafood sector and can play a role in driving or supporting better management in fisheries globally. The [Spanish seafood industry has] a clear role to play when it comes to the health of our ocean.

SeafoodSource: You have stopped direct engagement with seafood companies in Spain through precompetitive collaboration. Why? What do you plan to do now?

Marchais: When we started working in Spain in 2018, the idea was to create more collaboration and connections among NGOs, policy and legal experts, and, more importantly, between businesses themselves on seafood sustainability. There were already organizations working to that end, but perhaps not drawing all these links in one place. We saw ourselves as a launching pad for best practice sharing and the promotion of more ambitious internal risk-assessment systems and purchasing policies.

We organized a series of workshops and meetings to support the industry around the uptake of better traceability, promoting tools and platforms such as the Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability (GDST), where we helped retailers understand global industry trends in traceability and how to make it work in their own supply chains. We also supported increased transparency and better risk mapping and due diligence by promoting the uptake of sourcing guidelines, such as the PAS 1550, that help businesses know their supply chains.

However, the organization has recently decided to focus its resources on activities more firmly grounded in legal duties rather than voluntary market engagement initiatives. We continue to be supportive of some of the positive developments we are seeing with some sustainability leaders. However, we feel that better compliance with existing and upcoming legislation requires all of our attention. This is important for the sector, too, because those who are not moving in the right direction and towards sustainability are undermining the efforts of those who are.

SeafoodSource: Do you have some examples of that?

Marchais: Yes, one of the themes which is central to ClientEarth’s mission is the fight against IUU fishing. We have shown multiple times, through workshops and reports that risks still exist, that businesses need to map their supply chains and assess the risk in the products they buy. Good examples of this can be found in Spain. It has ... 

Photo courtesy of ClientEarth


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