On the Monday of Seafood Expo North America, I had the opportunity to join a panel discussing ways to reduce IUU fish in supply chains along with Ken Kimble of the Seafood Task Force and Costco, Mariah Boyle of FishWise, Steve Trent of EJF, and Mark Richardson of the Pew Charitable Trusts. The panel was chaired by Huw Thomas of the Pew Charitable Trusts. (More information on the panel here: http://www.seafoodexpo.com/north-america/session/reducing-risk-of-iuu-seafood-in-supply-chains/)
My perception is that there was unanimous agreement between the panelists that the private sector has a very important role to play in driving fisheries compliance and thereby sustainability. Several examples were presented of ways for this to happen and Ken gave a good run down of the Task Force and its goals for a very crowded audience. Mark Richardson layed the groundwork for the discussion with an explanation of legal frameworks and international intiatives relative to addressing IUU fishing, most importantly the Port State Measures Agreement. Mariah Boyle followed with ways that buyers and retailers can implement effective due diligence plans that encompass a wide range of factors including IUU fishing and labor standard reviews. Steve Trent discussed his observations of the role of the supply chain in addressing issues in both Thailand and West Africa, among other locations. He raised the importance of cultures of compliance in the private sector as well as the low hanging fruit of addressing IUU fishing, publicly available fishing licence and vessel registration lists. For my part, I emphasized some practical experiences and explained the crucial role that private businesses play in establishing a culture of compliance that is a pre-requisite for sustainable fisheries.
I like to draw attention to one example of “when it went wrong” not to be a naysayer, but to highlight how fast things can go bad and the major irreversible ecosystem changes that can come about without swift action by the private sector to help governments to take action. My favourite example of this is the case of Pollock in the central Bering Sea, also known as the “Donut Hole”. Most folks today think of Alaska Pollock as one of the great success stories of fisheries management with an MSC certification and excellent engagement between industry, civil society, and government to use the best science to make decisions that enable long term sustainability. What many people forget is that for a short period starting in the 1980s, there was an even larger Pollock fishery in the high seas pocket between the Russian and U.S. zones with annual catches estimated up to 1.7 million tons. Massive unregulated overfishing led to a complete collapse of the fishery such that by 1992 the harvest was down to about 10k tons. A moratorium was belatedly imposed by the countries with fishing in the area in 1993 but by that point the damage was done and the fishery had collapsed. It remains closed to this day and the stock has shown no signs of recovering. (More information here: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss2/art28/)
That story is a useful counterpoint to the successful fisheries that everyone points to. In all these fisheries, there is an understanding that buy-in from industry is important to the development and implementation of fishery regulations because a compliance model built around a cat-and-mouse game between the regulators and regulatees fundamentally does not work. The private sector has to understand the issues and be at the table engaged in constructive dialogue to encourage and support government actions that level the playing field for all participants and protects the resource long term. To have effective fishery management, governments try to set maximum catch limits that guide the development of different regulations for the different fishery sectors. For these rules to properly limit fishing activity to sustainable levels, participants have to actually follow the rules, whether they are protected habitat areas for juveniles or limits on certain types of gear with excessive bycatch levels. Fishery participants also need to feel that there is a level playing field and that anyone not following the rules is likely to be caught and that this behaviour is discouraged by everyone involved in the fishery. Importantly, this is not limited to just fishing vessel owners and operators.
In many areas, and especially in Thailand, actions on the water have impacts that carry through the entire supply chain, whether that’s through to surimi, from fish meal to shrimp ponds, or direct human consumption. That’s where the role of the Seafood Task Force has started to make a difference. By connecting all the different stakeholders to look for collaborative solutions, task force members are able to help build the culture of compliance that is critical to long term sustainability of fish stocks in Thailand and elsewhere. As part of the panel, I discussed work we’ve done with several companies in the Task Force to work with the government to help ensure compliance with government regulations to limit overfishing, keep industrial vessels out of near-shore artisanal zones, and to prevent at-sea transhipment when prohibited. Vessel operators, owners, and buyers have been involved to make sure that everyone understands the regulations the government has put forward and why they are in place. This work also allows a greater transparency within supply chains so that buyers and producers can demonstrate that the rules are being followed and are resulting in a quality sustainable catch to buyers and retailers around the world. This is all done in concert with Royal Thai Government and it also enables the members of the Seafood Task Force to provide critical feedback to the government to find solutions to the issues facing Thailand’s seafood sector.
As many of the panelists noted, none of this means the problems have been solved. But it does show that there are opportunities for industry and government to collaborate and for the entire supply chain to be an active part of the solution to ensure fisheries compliance. With that engagement and buy-in from all of the seafood sector from catchers to retailers, there can be buy-in necessary for full compliance and with compliance throughout the fisheries sector, we are able to have ensure fishery resources and jobs for the long term.
If anyone had a different view of the proceedings or didn’t get the chance to ask a question, I’d welcome the feedback via twitter @absoule or @oceanmindglobal.
The author is the Chief Fisheries Analyst for OceanMind, a not for profit helping governments and supply chains identify fisheries compliance risks and a part of the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell, UK.
Bradley Soule – Chief Fisheries Analyst – OceanMind