With 'problem' fisheries, closer involvement may be the answer
Drew Cherry, Intrafish.com
Published - January 29. 2008
(This copyrighted story is borrowed from Intrafish, a very useful subscription news service. I hope they won't mind, since it's now nearly 6 months old. C'mon fellas, can I borrow just one? Pretty please?)
How should the industry deal with “problem” fisheries? Walk away from them, or work within them for change?
When Danish seafood processor Espersen -- McDonald’s Europe’s fish supplier -- faced a storm of media criticism over the crisis in the Baltic Sea, the company took the unusual step of staying committed to the fishery.
It’s an example of a difference in philosophical approach, but one that panelists at the 2008 Seafood Summit argued strongly for.
“Leaving [a problem fishery] will not solve any problems,” said Alex Olsen, an executive with Danish seafood processor Espersen. “We will not be leaving the fishery.”
By staying engaged, Olsen said, his company can help enact change. Legal actors in the sector reap the rewards of strong buyer interest, which can then pressure illegal actors in the sector to improve.
Simon Rilatt, seafood sourcing director for the FoodVest Group, which owns the Young’s and Findus brands in Europe, agreed.
“The question is, why would we as a brand owner want to stay involved in a problem fishery? The reality is, we do it because we can make a difference,” he said.
“Our fear is, if we came away, we’d leave a vacuum. And the danger of a vacuum is you can’t predict how it will be filled,” Rilatt said.
Mark Powell, vice president in charge of fish conservation with The Ocean Conservancy, posed the question whether or not consumers should stop eating red-listed fish. The real goal of the sustainable seafood movement, Powell said, is not simply changing what people eat, but fixing unsustainable fisheries.
“Walking away is washing your hands of the problem,” Powell said. “Engagement helps people stay connected with iconic fish. If they walk away, maybe they quit caring, and that sets back the conservation agenda.”
Powell cited positive signals for the recovery of red snapper. The fishery is working on an ITQ-style program, and has a clear plan for rebuilding stocks.
“In my opinion, that fishery is on its way to sustainability,” Powell said.
Another key link in the chain will be the fishing community itself. Once the rewards of sustainability have to be made clear to the fishing community, the panel said, fishermen will be more likely to buy in.
“A depleted fish, with too many boats, doesn’t make any money,” said Jim Cannon of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. “A well-run fishery makes bucket loads of money. The winners are going to make millions.”
“It’s less about price premium, and more about long-term commitment that major, responsible buyers make,” Cannon said.