Sustainable Seafood Series - Whose Role is it to Promote Sustainable Seafood?
I think if I were coming in from the cold and not knowing what ‘sustainable seafood’ was, I’d probably first try to understand the meaning of sustainable seafood before figuring out who should promote it.
For me, sustainable seafood refers to reef fish, deep sea fish, shellfish, giant clams, sea cucumbers, crabs, seaweed, or any other edible marine species that has been harvested in a controlled manner.
Controlled in the sense that those who went out fishing knew what they should catch and how much of it they should catch so as to allow the same species the opportunity to replenish themselves, and giving me the opportunity to continue to enjoy my favourite seafood.
In my desire to learn more about sustainable seafood, I’ve also found out that for commercial purposes, sustainable seafood also refers to:
(a) the manner in which these seafood are harvested, meaning the kind of fishing gear being used to catch whatever specific seafood is being targeted, matters; and
(b) that when a target species is caught, for example albacore tuna on a longline, it is being done so with minimal impact on the accidental catch of other species such as marine turtles and sharks, a number of which are considered to be endangered
If through this method of fishing such as longlining, or purse seining for example, the fishing authority doesn’t monitor and record:
(a) The amount of fish being caught (because there is a catch limit for specific species in a given year);
(b) Other species of fish or non-fish being caught other than the targeted fish (known as bycatch); (c) the size of the targeted fish; and
(d) where the fishing activity is being carried out, i.e. that a fishing boat is supposed to be fishing where it has been licenced to fish; then the targeted fish that is being caught for the market whether it be local or export can either be deemed to be sustainable or not depending on where these conditions have been met.
Because sustainable seafood is now becoming a global concern, in order to meet the voracious demand of both domestic and overseas consumers, there are other conditions not mentioned here that also have to be accounted for in order to meet the criteria for sustainable seafood.
So whose role is it to promote sustainable seafood?
From a national perspective, Government through its designated Ministry (Fisheries) and other line agencies (Defence, Customs, Maritime Authority, local and Provincial Government authorities) has a big responsibility to ensure that fishing activities being carried out in both its coastal waters (inshore), and offshore areas are being conducted legally, that fishing licenses are being issued based on sustainability criterion, and that there is a capable monitoring, control and surveillance capacity to deal with illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing activities. This is a continuous challenge for Fiji, and other Pacific Island states.
There is growing pressure from major seafood buyers in Europe and North America for legally and sustainably caught fish.
Likewise, there is a growing demand on seafood suppliers to prove that the fish they’re supplying or selling is legally caught and sustainably sourced. The term “traceability” is used to describe this and will be a subject for discussion in a future article. Sustainable seafood has now become a mantra for responsible seafood buyers who are concerned that our oceans are being plundered and raped by irresponsible fishers. By demanding this, they are basically saying to those supplying the fish, “we’re not buying your fish or seafood if you can’t prove to us that it was sustainably caught.”
The fishing industry is one of the most important stakeholders in the supply of sustainable seafood, or to the contrary. With the growing sustainability demand, the consumers and buyers are looking at responsible fishing and fish-sourcing nations, and companies to meet this requirement.
Environmental non-government organisations like WWF, among a number of NGOs, are strong advocates of sustainable seafood, from the point of view of sustaining livelihoods and economies; and stewardship of a finite resource.
At the national level the tourism sector, restaurant owners, and major supermarkets have or can become agents of change, heralding in a new era in seafood sourcing. Tourists and restaurant goers in many countries are becoming quite discerning about their seafood, in particular knowing what kind of seafood they should order because of a heightened sense of awareness of endangered marine species.
So where does that leave you and me? We can start by asking questions when we buy our seafood at the supermarket, or at the market. Or when we buy fish and chips or order a seafood dish at a restaurant. Simple questions such as: “Where did you catch this fish?”; “Do you know what fish this is?”; “Do you know where this fish was caught?” It does matter that we play a role in promoting sustainable seafood.
Read up about what species of fish and other seafood are considered to be healthy or endangered. Inform yourself and then let others know. These may be baby steps in advocating about sustainable seafood but they become more steady and solid steps in time.
Written by Seremaia Tuqiri the Fisheries Policy Officer at WWF South Pacific.