World's biggest seafood event to put spotlight on sustainable fishing

Sensemaking / World's biggest seafood event to put spotlight on sustainable fishing

This year's annual gathering of 25,000 seafood industry professionals will highlight the importance of sustainable fishing practices.

By Duncan Jefferies / 06 Apr 2014

Seafood Expo Global, the world’s largest seafood trade event, takes place on 6-8 May in Brussels. Around 25,000 buyers, suppliers and processing-industry professionals from over 140 countries are set to attend, and between them the 1,690 exhibiting companies supply nearly every type of seafood imaginable.

As Rebecca Fordham, Global Communications Director at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) says, the reason this event is so vast is partly down to the value of the global seafood trade: $217.5 billion in 2010, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. It employs, in primary harvesting and processing, around 200 million people worldwide – and that’s before you take into account more upstream employment like making and mending boats and nets, and downstream employment in the retail sector. In short, a big industry needs a big event to do it justice.

But what does such an event do for the industry, particularly as it faces growing pressure to ensure fish stocks are healthy for the future? For one, it provides an opportunity for key people from across the global supply chain to meet face-to-face, discovering new products, approaches and industry trends.

One trend is the continued rise of MSC certification and assessment which now covers around 10% of the world’s wild capture fish stocks. More than 300 fisheries are engaged with the MSC programme – either in assessment or already certified – and representatives from many of those fisheries will attend this year’s show. 

The fishing industry is a “truly global trade”, says Fordham, which is why it’s so important to have an ecolabel that transcends national borders. Without efforts to make the industry more sustainable as a whole, there’s a danger that fish stocks could get to a tipping point where recovery is no longer an option, she adds. “Our programme is a bulwark against that. It enables rational management to take place, and for the seafood business, the supply chain, to be able to choose from verified, sustainable fisheries and keep feeding a growing world while generating wealth and value.”

Fordham believes that one of the reasons shows like Seafood Expo Global are particularly valuable is that “people are really willing to do business – to conclude contracts and push things along. So if you are trying to create a tipping point in favour of a particular policy, then this is a good place to do it – not least because people have invested quite a lot in getting there, and in being there, so they want to come away with maximum value from it.”

Henk Brus, CEO of Sustunable, an international supplier of sustainably caught tuna, says Seafood Expo Global also provides an opportunity for different sectors of the seafood industry to compare notes on their involvement with the MSC certification programme. “Many people tend to think very much within their own sector”, he says, “so it’s good to see what activities are being undertaken in other markets, and how these markets are reacting.”

The MSC aims to use the ecolabel and fishery certification programme to recognise and reward sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and to work with its partners to transform the seafood market – an ambition which will be reiterated during its Commercial Market Update at Seafood Expo Global. Ultimately, it envisages a world where the oceans teem with life, and seafood supplies are safeguarded for generations to come.

The successful MSC certification of a Russian pollock fishery in September last year illustrates how the MSC’s theory of change works. A number European buyers, hoping to supplement their existing supplies of MSC-certified pollock from an Alaskan fishery, worked alongside WWF and the Russian Federal Fishing Agency to demonstrate to the Russian fishery that it would command a better price for its product, as well sell more fish in the global market, if it also joined the MSC’s programme. As Fordham says, “That is the kind of example we would hope seafood buyers and fisheries in Brussels are going to take note of, and think, ‘There’s something here for us too’.” – Duncan Jefferies

Marine Stewardship Council is a Forum for the Future partner.

Photo credit: Seafood Expo Global produced by Diversified Communications

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