By Will Chen, Marketing Intern
The phrase “sustainable seafood” has increasingly gained traction in the last few years. In 2015, 14 percent of the world’s seafood production, including wild-caught and farmed, was certified as sustainable. This is a many-fold increase from the 0.5 percent of the share a decade earlier! You might have seen this label on cans of tuna in the grocery store or at your favorite seafood restaurant, perhaps next to phrases like “pole-and-line caught."
Sustainability — using what’s there, without using it up — may seem simple enough to state, but actually ensuring sustainable seafood is not just a matter of securing a certain number of fish in the ocean, but also a matter of maintaining the livelihoods of the communities that depend on fishing.
Fortunately, corporations, academics and coastal communities are coming to a consensus that the multi-faceted challenge of sustainable seafood is worth pursuing, as evidenced by two conferences Claire Dawson, one of our recent Hershman Marine Policy Fellows, attended: SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Seattle, Washington and the Centre for Maritime Research (MARE) People and the Sea Conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
On the one hand, SeaWeb attendance was dominated by large businesses and industry leaders. The conference was a nexus of business interests and environmental responsibility. Themes included humane business practices, seafood traceability and community livelihoods. For example, NORPAC is pioneering a barcode system to trace the origins of their fish. From the catch to the market, these bar codes provide travel logs of each fish, including how and where they were caught and processed. Consequently, consumers can be better informed about the sustainability of their seafood while businesses can respond to food-safety disasters by tracking them back to their source.
In contrast, MARE People and the Sea brought together academics and policymakers. The topics were nonetheless intertwined with those of the SeaWeb conference, including issues of social relations and culture, fisheries management, governance and the continuity of the sea. How should seaweed farmers contend with diseases and climate change that could devastate their source of income? How will China’s water quality improve as the country scales back its overdeveloped aquaculture industry in response to a growing middle-class hungry for imported seafood? What is the role of small-scale fisheries in the well-being of local communities, such as one octopus fishery responsible for upwards of 40 percent of the annual gross domestic product of a small population in northeastern Brazil?
More than ever, sustainability is becoming a top priority for businesses, consumers and coastal communities. Collaborations among businesses, scientists, policymakers and stakeholders will spur creative solutions to this global challenge that best meet everyone’s economic, social, health and environmental needs.