In Australia, there’s been a marked shift in the seafood industry in the last year. Now, it’s absolutely clear to the supply chain and retailers that consumers want to know more about what they’re buying: they might not always choose certified goods at the counter, but they want to know whether their products are sourced responsibly and where they come from – and that someone’s taking care of these things. That’s not just true of fish: a great deal of progress has been made in free-range chicken eggs, pigs and so on. For Australia’s food sector, sustainability has become part of doing business.
The Western Australian Government has made some big commitments to sustainable seafood certification, making A$14.5 million available to give all fisheries the opportunity to become Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified, by paying for the full assessment process. In addition, the South Australian Government has begun offering to match fisheries’ contributions towards third-party certification.
Many fisheries are also taking their own initiatives – and not just for commercial reasons. In 2015, the world’s first recreational fishery entered into full MSC assessment in partnership with commercial operations in the fishery. Tremendous leadership is being displayed by this community of fishing enthusiasts who are using their MSC assessment as a tool to demonstrate a truly collaborative approach to not just sharing a resources but acting as stewards to manage it responsibly. For them, there’s no market incentive. What’s driving a lot of this work is essentially passion- ate individuals who care: champions who see the case for change and are reaching out to make it happen.
As a consequence, the MSC now has support from most of the major seafood brands and supermarkets in Australia. For some, it’s a marketing opportunity, a way to tell a great story; for others, it’s a way to meet their corporate social responsibility objectives; while some see it as an opportunity to improve management processes. They come to the MSC saying, “We care about sustainable sourcing and we want to get better at it!” Then competition across producers, suppliers and brands cuts in. You see it especially if a leading brand starts to participate: others follow.
Coles, a major retailer in Australia, has now put MSC and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) logos on its seafood deli counters. This gives fisheries a platform right across the nation – so that’s going to stimulate further competition. Everyone wants to talk about what’s fresh, what’s local, so this over-the-counter context can spark interactions between supermarket staff and customers.
In general, interest in the ocean’s health is growing, with a lot of public debate. At the MSC, the focus is specifically on sustainable wild fishing, but the more discussion around the health of ocean ecosystems, the better, as it is all interconnected.
Australia is the MSC’s most developed market in the Asia-Pacific region, but Singapore and Hong Kong are growing at a much faster rate than the MSC had expected. In these cities, the retail and restaurant for- mats are much like in Western markets: consumers generally want to know more about their products. In Hong Kong, hotels and restaurants have a high profile and a very engaged audience, and so offer a good lever for change.
China is very different – e-commerce is emerging as the most promising way to engage consumers there. There’s so much seafood now being sold on those plat- forms: you have companies running individual lobsters right to people’s homes! This offers brands a way to engage people directly, gaining recognition and building trust. Appetite for trusted brands is one reason that the MSC is seeing increased interest in China. People want to know where their food comes from, to be sure it’s safe. They are consciously looking for recognised, overseas brands.
In China, the industry is already familiar with the MSC’s Chain of Custody, as it has been processing sea- food going to the US and Europe for nearly a decade, and so dealing with the Chain of Custody and noting the rising interest in traceability. Last year saw China’s first MSC-certified fishery: a big point of pride for the fishery, and a sign of leadership for others to follow.
Patrick Caleo is Director – Asia-Pacific, Marine Stewardship Council, which is a member of Forum for the Future’s Network
Image Credit: Marine Stewardship Council