Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Seafood Sustainability & Social Issues

When discussions of seafood sustainability arise, they most often revolve around protection of seafood species as well as their environment. There might be talk of endangered fish populations, such as cod in the Gulf of Maine, or destruction of the sea bed from trawling. However, sustainability discussions have been expanding, and social issues have begun taking on more and more importance, as rightfully so.

When I wrote about the 2014 Seafood Expo North America (SENA) this spring, I posted about The Seven Keys of Sustainability, my own list of the most important aspects of seafood sustainability. A vital question raised during the conference was  "What is the next step beyond sustainability?" That referred to sustainability as mainly species and environmental issues. And as more and more fisheries became sustainable, that means it no longer provides as significant a competitive edge. So what would fisheries do to increase their competitiveness, as well as how would the definition of sustainability expand?

For me, the potential answer was inspired by a seminar with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). The sustainability standards set by the ASC address social issues, such as the welfare of workers, a fair wage, safety, and much more. At the time of the Seafood Expo, the abuse of Thai seafood workers had been making headlines, and I predicted that social sustainability would likely be the next big step for the seafood industry. This seems like it is coming true.

The SeafoodSource reported about the recent Global Outlook for Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in October. This conference is organized by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), a NGO which promotes responsible aquaculture practices. The SeafoodSource stated that discussions of social issues were prominent at GOAL and that social issues and environmental impacts "are now permanently intertwined."

It was also mentioned that there were significant discussions of "human rights and responsible treatment of workers on fishing vessels, on farms and in processing plants." Avoidance of these issues doesn't seem to be an issue. Much of this was spurred on by recent reports castigating the seafood industry for social abuses. This is a very positive sign, that a major international seafood conference would deal with these issues head-on.

The prominence of social issues and seafood sustainability will only increase in the next few years, with the seafood industry trying to correct past errors, and ensure such problems do not arise again. I suspect that next year's SENA will also address this issue in greater depth. You will see more articles about these social issues in the seafood media.

What is especially significant is how the seafood industry has addressed all of these issues in such a short time span, when other food industries seem to have dragged their feet. Maybe other industries should take lessons from the seafood industry and up their game.

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