SFP’s Summit for Seafood Suppliers

Last week in Las Vegas a mini trade show featured technical services for sustainability for seafood suppliers.  The event was hosted by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), the conservation NGO chiefly responsible for helping seafood buyers find alignment around sustainable sourcing in many parts of the world.  I was there together with some pals who share similar ideas about moving forward.

First off I’d like to thank SFP very much for the opportunity to present the fishery improvement projects that we assist with at the Sustainability Incubator.  The first project presented was the Yucatan Crab Fishery Improvement Project led by Pontchartrain Blue Crab of Louisiana.  It was a genuine blessing to have Pontchartrain’s Gary Bauer in the house.  Just the same it was extraordinary for me to host Sami Stringer from Seafarers Inc. of Miami at the booth and to feature the three projects led by Seafarers for Yucatan Grouper, Yucatan Snapper and Suriname Snapper.  More than a new colleague Sami was also a true friend – helping me set up the booth and sticking with me through the day.  That says a lot considering how difficult it was to affix photos and banner to the back of the booth!  (velcro, short pins, long pins, tape — nothing worked easily!)  I got to know Gary and Sami better and that was the highlight of the trip.

In the presentation I was privileged to be able to mention these projects and also a new one for California Squid led by Neptune Foods.  The point was to show clearly what the projects are about and by extension make it clear what they are not, in order to demystify “FIPs”.  At the beginning the most important thing to set up a project right.  I emphasize following all steps needed to meet the basic “credibility elements” for improvement projects published by the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions.  These criteria are recognized by Walmart and Sam’s Club so meeting them is a good investment in seafood value.  Along the way following the steps systematically builds the relationships needed to improve fisheries.  To see the list of steps visit www.sustainability-incubator.com/projects.   As a result of the presentation we had inquiries for 4 – 5 new projects at the booth.

Okay, so you get a project launched credibly…. then what?  At the show my booth was next door to Sian Morgan’s from Scientific Certification Services (SCS).  SCS is a full service certification body accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council.  One of the major pathways forward for a fishery improvement project is straight to Marine Stewardship Council certification.  When the client is clear that they want certification as the outcome of the project, especially with a timeline of 3 years or less, then it is worthwhile to talk about building a fast track to MSC with Sian.  See http://www.scscertified.com

At the event I was also very happy to see my colleague Ernesto Godelman whose organization CeDePesca leads improvement projects in Latin America.  I recommend contacting Ernesto for FIP assistance for seafood from the region.  See http://cedepesca.net/.

For projects that will improve fisheries in a steady way on a little longer timeline to meet the 80 (passing) scores in the MSC standard, say 4 – 10 years, then in the first 18 months the premium is on building the capacity needed at the producer/exporter/importer/distributor level to make steady improvements.  The critical thing here is getting a solid dialogue started with the regulator.  There are many fishery improvements that can be made solely by the private sector — and we will pursue these in projects assisted by the Sustainability Incubator — but to reach the heights of MSC the truth is most of the work that needs to be done is at the regulatory level.  That means there needs to be a give and take relationship between what the seafood industry needs the regulator to do to meet the standard and also what the regulator receives back from industry in terms of pragmatic support and realistic expectations.  Too many MSC runs become a card house of expectations built up on top of regulators who are under-resourced and overworked already.  The same thing can happen for FIPs when too much is expected too soon.  In many cases all of the relationships needed to move forward must be built from scratch around the idea of doing what it takes to improve source fisheries.  That does not happen overnight.  It takes some time to build trust, confidence and value.

There are a lot of ways to do this work wrong.  But done right, a good product becomes an even better one when supported by a credible fishery improvement project, and a more secure and attractive product in the marketplace.

Starting to see some proof — Seafarers Inc. of Miami has invited me to work with them at their booth at the Boston seafood show in March, to help introduce their clients to their commitment to sustainability.  This is the policy on their website:

“Seafarers’ has pledged to develop and implement a corporate policy on sustainable sourcing practices.  We are implementing Fishery Improvement Projects in the regions where our company sources its core fish species.” (seafarersinc.com)

Starting to see alignment out there around fishery improvements.  Thank you SFP.

See you in Boston.