New Industry Report: The Sustainable Seafood Handbook

Over the past decade and a half, “sustainable seafood” has moved from a niche market to one of the driving forces in the seafood industry. It is now an undeniable fact of doing business today.

Though the exact measures and criteria might vary slightly, in general “sustainability” in fisheries has come to mean not overexploiting a stock to the point where it is threatened with collapse, not overly impacting non-target species or the habitat in which target and non-target species live, and having responsive and conservative management measures in place. For aquaculture, it generally has applied to reducing environmental impacts of production, and creating a fully transparent product chain that can assure buyers of the origin and product quality.

The NGOs, eco-labels, processors and retailers highlighted in this report have decided, to varying degrees, that these criteria are important and achievable, and these groups are intent on pushing the rest of seafood industry closer to these goals as well. This report is provided as a guide for all companies up and down to value chain to working with these sustainable-seafood players to maximize the benefits or reduce risks to your organization.

While some groups remain immune to arguments supporting the sustainability of this fishery or that aquaculture product even in the face of clear scientific support, luckily, several groups are now reaching out to the industry to help achieve reasonable goals that depend more on continual improvement rather than band-aid ripping changes. Many clearly sustainable options exist in the marketplace, and consumers are encouraged to reward those sustainable producers by purchasing their products rather than the sometimes less sustainable – or less expensive – ones with which they might be more familiar.

For businesses that have gotten on that sustainability boat, this rapidly growing sustainability demand can be great for the bottom line, though a direct correlation is not always clear. Hundreds of retailers and restaurants large and small have made pledges to carry only sustainable seafood. As a result, some certified products can fetch a price premium or enjoy a guaranteed, exclusive market. Free publicity and valuable partnerships are offered by big-name conservation groups. Sustainability has become big business.

The idea of sustainable seafood has resonated with shoppers, but that desire to make the “right” choice has not translated to purchasing on the broad scale. However, making the right choice is confusing, and has added some major hurdles to seafood companies operating responsibly, but facing misperceptions about their products. Eco-labels are the most obvious efforts to help consumers make choices in their consumption, but other public-awareness campaigns, projects to improve fisheries’ sustainability, and coalitions between researchers, fishers, processors and buyers are emerging seemingly every month.

For suppliers and buyers, the process can turn out to be much more complex than NGOs may want it to be. One of the biggest criticisms eco-labels and conservation groups have faced is that there are now too many separate sustainable seafood efforts with too much overlap and redundant initiatives, a confusion that is made worse by the lack of communication and cooperation between different groups and between the NGO community and the government agencies that actually hold the responsibility for regulating fishing and conservation. But this field is still young, and there are signs closer cooperation and harmonization is coming – or perhaps it is good that different groups and eco-labels have slightly different standards for sustainability and slightly different focuses.

This report highlights some of those differences and those similarities. It provides a rundown of the lengthy roster of non-government organizations working to nudge or shove the seafood industry toward greater sustainability, an examination of the eco-label landscape, highlights of major buyers’ sustainability policies and pledges, and an update on the state and perception of the sustainability of several key species.

For both seafood buyers and producers, one of the biggest hurdles in trying to be more sustainability-conscious is having enough information to make well-informed decisions. This report hopes to help address that confusion, and give those companies an indispensible tool for navigating the sustainable seafood waters.

Order The Sustainable Seafood handbook 2013 report now by emailing: cuan.joannides@intrafish.com

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