World Seafood Congress kicks off

Editor’s note: SeaFood Business Associate Editor James Wright is in Washington, D.C., this week reporting from the World Seafood Congress. 

The seventh World Seafood Congress kicked off this morning at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., as seafood professionals from more than 30 nations gathered to discuss the challenges facing the global seafood trade. The event is organized by the International Association of Fish Inspectors and the National Fisheries Institute.

The theme of the event — Seafood + Trade = Health + Jobs — was echoed in many of the speakers’ opening remarks. Cameron Prince, VP of operations for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said it is crucial for global seafood leaders to share best practices and trainings that enhance safety and trade.

“We face many emerging issues. It’s great to have a network of people to draw on when you face challenges. An organization like [IAFI] can contribute to international standard setting,” said Prince. “The world is facing economic challenges we can’t ignore, but it’s more important to support organizations like IAFI now more than ever.”

The main drivers for change in seafood inspection globally are transparency and traceability, added Prince.

“There is a trend toward more industry-driven inspection systems. But where is that line between what the government does and what the industry does? With governments tending to have less resources, that question has to be dealt with so the overall integrity [of global seafood trade] is maintained,” he said.

John Whitehead, OBE/chair of UK organization Seafish, spoke about the global challenge of addressing sustainability and the “formidable battle in speaking to consumers” about the issues. Whitehead said that about USD 40 million is spent annually by non-governmental organizations in the United Kingdom and northern Europe alone, many of them funded by U.S.-based environmental groups.

“We must use our limited resources to the best effect in developing a level of trust between us all and a willingness to work together,” said Whitehead. “Industry is a crucial stakeholder in preserving the marine environment.”

Sustainability has become a major issue in the United Kingdom thanks largely to the campaign by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnsley-Whittingstall and his “Fish Fight” campaign, which was featured on TV and sought solutions to the controversial practice of discarding fish at sea. Whitehead said it was key that the industry engaged with Fearnsley-Whittingstall, who Whitehead said recognized that “many of the problems facing the industry are outside of its control, and that it’s pointless and wrong to demonize the fishers.

“The conclusion he came to is what we could have told him from the start — there is no simple solution to discards. We look forward to working further with Hugh and his team. Fishing better, fishing smarter needs friends, to make the management smarter as well,” said Whitehead. “Deciding who has the last word on sustainability is a thorny issue, one that will be debated for years to come.”

Whitehead added that Seafish is launching a new campaign this week called “Fish is the Dish,” which will educate consumers about introducing children to seafood and reduce the uncertainty and fear that consumers may have in preparing fish at home. The campaign will lean heavily on social media: Facebook, Twitter and “a network of mommy bloggers.”

“It’s modern marketing in action; we’re looking forward to it,” said Whitehead.

The World Seafood Congress was developed 15 years ago here in Washington, said IAFI President Mike Dillon. The first Congress was held in 1999 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Subsequent events have been held in Dan Haag, Netherlands (2001); Sydney, Australia (2005); Dublin, Ireland (2007); Agadir, Morocco (2009).

The next Congress is slated for 28 September to 4 October, 2013, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.


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