Keystone dialogue for Ocean Stewardship / by Francisco Blaha

In June 2015, I blogged about a paper published by researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Institute,  which focused on the role of global transnational fishing corporations instead of the role of nation states as the key players which traditionally formed the basis for governance of fisheries resources.

fisherman fish, traders rule

fisherman fish, traders rule

They used the ecology concept of “keystone species”, that are those …"that have a profound and disproportionate effect on communities and ecosystems and determine their structure and function to a much larger degree than what would be expected from their abundance'… And they adapt this concept to identify “seafood companies” that take a similar role in the global seafood industry “ecosystem”.

I was quite taken but that approach, since I see a similar pattern in tuna with 3 big traders that influence everything and everyone in the sector, and I always wondered how could be getting those guys at a table and find solutions.

Now the authors have moved another step by getting the key managers of the 8 biggest fishing conglomerates identified in their paper, into a fancy resort in the Maldives (smart move!) and getting them to issue a ten-point statement committing to action on ocean stewardship following the first “keystone dialogue” between scientists and business leaders.

The companies commit to improving transparency and traceability and reducing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in their supply chains. Antibiotic use in aquaculture, greenhouse gas emissions and plastic pollution will also be prioritized. The seafood businesses commit to eliminating any products in their supply chains that may have been obtained through “modern slavery including forced, bonded and child labour”.

As keystone actors, they set up a new global initiative – “Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship” – that brings together, for the first time, leaders in science and business, the wild capture and aquaculture sectors of the seafood industry, and companies from Asia, Europe and North America, operating globally.

Through “Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship”, they intend to develop a common understanding and a common approach among the keystone actors globally, building on the many existing initiatives in which our companies are already engaged.

This is an initiative between science and business, with an ambition to engage with governments and other stakeholders for positive change. It is not only about supplying sustainable seafood to consumers; it is about becoming stewards of the world’s ocean and aquaculture environments.

And they will act on the following:

  • Improve transparency and traceability in our own operations, and work together to share information and best practice, building on existing industry partnerships and collaborations.
  • Engage in concerted e orts to help reduce IUU fishing and seek to ensure that IUU products and endangered species are not present in our supply chains.
  • Engage in science-based e orts to improve fisheries and aquaculture management and productivity, through collaboration with industry, regulators and civil society.
  • Engage in concerted e orts to eliminate any form of modern slavery including forced, bonded and child labour in our supply chains.
  • Work towards reducing the use of antibiotics in aquaculture.
  • Reduce the use of plastics in seafood operations, and encourage global efforts to reduce plastic pollution.
  • Reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Secure new growth in aquaculture, by deploying best practices in preventive health management, including improved regulatory regimes.
  • Collaborate and invest in the development and deployment of emerging approaches and technologies for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.
  • Support novel initiatives and innovations for ocean stewardship

Is all nice words, but for me, the point is that if these guys are really committed, they have a massive driving force.

Interestingly the Q&A section has a very good question (and answer):
Why should people think this is nothing more than just a corporate PR project?
This is a long-term initiative facilitated by science. The initiative did not come from the companies themselves, but originated from research conducted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre. The scientists believe that the largest companies within the seafood industry have the capacity to lead a transformation towards a more sustainable and transparent business. This meeting was intended to test this idea and future meetings will define how concrete actions will be developed. This will inevitably take some time, but the future will show how it can complement efforts and actions developed by governments. This initiative will be supported by independent science, and it is up to the companies to live up to their joint commitments.

I don't know how far will this go, but I would keep an eye on it because is a novel and realistic approach. Furthermore, I would love to have something like that in the tuna world, because while we work with flag, coastal, port and market states, in our sector we have 3 "supra states" that amalgamate all others, the 3 big traders: "Trimarine, FCF and Itochu", and their combined influence shape the industry.