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What’s the difference between Labor Safe Screen and other tools?

Last week NPR and other news media published a story about the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Sustainable Fisheries Partnership.  The Labor Safe Screen was referenced in the story and so was the Slavery and Trafficking Risk Template by compliance firms Assent Compliance, Baker and Hughes, and Ropes and Gray.  I’ve been asked, what’s the difference between these tools?  I went through the purpose and methods for all three and here are the results.

Note that I am striving to be fair and objective about Labor Safe Screen vs the other tools here in order to help people find the right thing they can do right now.  All three are helpful and stand out as green sprouts on a desert landscape.

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The following tables contain the same info as above but in a larger font that may be easier to read.

Track record: Labor Safe Screen:

188 seafood products screened for 18 companies; Automated version now available in Trace Register; Partnership for Freedom  Grand Prize winner

MBA/SFP Slavery Risk Tool




Slavery and Trafficking Risk Template



New to seafood sector

What’s in scope? End-to-end supply chain screening for products. Companies gain coverage for all products right away in the automated program because they are screened at tier 1 at the push of a button. Slavery risk is assigned to fishery profiles defined by species, gear, FAO area.  Results are said to apply to fishing vessels, but vessels are not a unit of analysis in this tool. The company answering the questions and their immediate suppliers are asked to complete the template to show good corporate citizenship on slavery risk.
Purpose Risk reduction. Labor safety coverage for all products, all chains.  Real conditions and real gaps and real needs for protection are identified (safety equipment, contracts, legal status) to benefit the human beings at the frontline of work. Raise awareness of slavery in fisheries Address the slavery risk to business and disclose the efforts the company takes to protect itself.
How achieved? Risk-based due diligence following the OECD pathway (graphic below). This is an interactive improvements program where suppliers can actively lower the risk scores for their products with proof points to show the protections in place. Analyst at the aquarium will look for information online to fill fishery profiles. Monterey Bay Aquarium and SFP will publish their findings in association with their environmental grading of fisheries CSR approach. Self assessment.  The template is generic for all sectors. The idea is all businesses will self-report in the same way to show they have done risk ID in their immediate reach. Can be effective if transparent. However if your company has a lot of ‘no’s’ in the answers it may not be easy to share the results.
Inputs Determinations by competent authorities of where forced labor is significant in seafood production (labor risk) and where there is adequate protection for workers from forced labor (labor safety).  Suppliers can lower risk scores with proof of protective practices in the supply chain and onsite.  Zero speculation in scoring. Any country-level and media articles online re. trafficking, slavery, forced labor, labor abuse, or poor working conditions will be tagged to fisheries. Each company prepares a template by referencing its own activities and those of its immediate suppliers.  Filling the template reveals gaps in coverage that companies could try fill, but no process for that.
Outputs Risk scores for products, goal is to have everything in the safe zone above 60 Online profiles Disclosure doc which could be helpful in case of investigations
Follows the Respect, Protect, Remedy guidance of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights? Respect, Protect, Remedy Respect only, Fishery level only (not on land, not in transshipping, not in aquaculture, not in processing) Respect only, immediate suppliers only.
Partners to the tool Sustainability Incubator, Trace Register, Humanity United, Freedom Fund, Partnership for Freedom, Nexus Institute, UN-ACT, Labour Rights Promotion Network MBA, SFP, Liberty Asia (initially included Seafish and Fishwise but they went their own way) Board is comprised of compliance executives
Validation of the tool and track record Partnership for Freedom Grand Prize, developed with support from Humanity United and the Freedom Fund. Human rights experts in trafficking in fishing and IUU fishing experts were a vital part of its development. MBA led Used in compliance/CSR circles, formerly as the Human Rights risk tool


Here’s what each of the tools looks like on the inside:

  Pros Cons
Labor Safe Screen



Risk-based due diligence for whole supply chains. The approach to product screening combines traceability, compliance and procurement approaches and combines findings from competent authorities in the human rights sphere (only) with supplier data.  No inference on risk.   Independent and confidential service which will generate Industry hasn’t come to grips yet with risk-based due diligence as a source of security on labor.  Risks are manageable, but seeing the gaps in coverage in the chain is still quite scary!  It’s a learning curve.
Automated for instant results All products run through tier one will receive a risk score based on the country of origin data already available in Trace Register (fishing, farming, processing and exporting countries).
Tier Two Scoring All products run through tier two will receive a risk score based on protective practices in the supply chain.  Suppliers will be engaged and asked to identify protective practices and will have support to build them up. Suppliers are engaged and scores reflect their contribution of data.  We accommodate this challenge in scoring and offer support.  We focus on de-risking the process for suppliers.
Tier 3 Scoring Products with persistent high ³60 scores can be run through tier three.  At tier three the facility owner is asked to provide proof points to demonstrate a minimum floor of protection for all workers in the facility (including subcontracted and migrant workers) Suppliers could game the proof points, for example by producing a list of names.  However, the object here is to locate the accountability for the score with the right organization, and put the onus for coverage at the right place.
MBA/SFP Slavery Risk Tool






This is an educational service which will publish in one place all easy-find allegations and findings of slavery and human trafficking in the public domain, including any questions raised about forced labor or child labor by the media.  This fulfills Liberty Asia’s mandate, which is to let bankers and investors know. “Fishery” scope is not a unit used in human rights research so the analyst must infer every risk relationship.
  Findings will associate to MBA and SFP fishery ratings Findings will associate to MBA and SFP fishery ratings
  Country-level risk scoring is the right place to start because competent authorities have rated countries on forced labor risk.
High Risk Path 1 Assigns country level risks outside of seafood production agriculture, forestry etc) to seafood with no basis.
High Risk Path 2 vs Moderate Risk Path 2

High Risk Path 2 is a finding of no risk in the fishery but risk in other sectors in the country.

High Risk Path 2 and Moderate Risk Path 2 are virtually identical
Slavery & Trafficking Risk Template




This is a disclosure approach which addresses one of three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Asks the right general questions about where risk occurs to business. Good stuff to have in a company code of conduct. Missing perspective and problem definition from seafood and also from the human rights sphere.  Not specific enough to catch seafood work realities; for example most fishers are paid by share not salary.


Food Chain

What’s the story of your food?

One of the people working in food I admire most is Amanda Rieux, whose Mala’ai school garden has become a model for food education in Hawaii.  A couple of days ago she shared some training notes including a heads up about the Nourish series of short films each of which asks a provocative question about our food.  They are very short films, at 1 – 5 minutes, and get straight to it, largely leaving  the answers to the viewer.  The Food Chain video left me with a question I suspect will stick with me.  The speaker was Michael Pollan.  He asked does our food come to us in a form our body can recognize?  Making the point that a food chain has a biological system on both ends, being on one end the sun, soil and plant (or ocean and fish), and on the other end an eater, in a human body, food can be transformed away from its biological form by industrial processes in the middle.  Our bodies recognize edible species and know what to do them.  Our bodies don’t recognize novelties like additives.  What does it cost us physically to process non-food food when our bodies lack the evolutionary knowledge of what to do with it?  What does that disconnect lead to?

There is a big social aspect to food that makes it nourishing.  When it’s missing, do our bodies find it less nourishing too?   Another of the videos, called Cooking Together by Chef Bryant Terry, makes a case for the social life of food and the kitchen as ground zero for joy.  When family and friends cook a meal together the joy meter can hit 10 with little effort; yet this is happening less because people are intimidated by cooking and can’t relate much to the ingredients.  In the USA, where we eat imported seafood largely, we don’t know where it came from, according to NOAA.  Product origins disappear in the middle of the chain.  As a result, eaters can not see what fishing looks like today or imagine the hands and human face of fishermen and plant workers.   Doesn’t this seems like a profit leak?  We’re not on farms or throwing net like our grandparents but as eaters we are evolved to recognize soul in food.   In a garden, kids instinctively pick the food their bodies know they can eat, says Amanda.

Know your Farmer is a great idea, as yet another video says.  There’s no escaping long-distance food however because it makes up the bulk of the American diet.  There is no room for excuses about blind spots in production.  Let me be clear.  Either a food chain is socially and biologically accountable, or it is not.  Accountable doesn’t have to mean organic or farm to table; but it must mean the food origins are accounted for and also the social impacts of production are accounted for.  Food has a story and knowledge of where it came from and how it was made is part of the nourishment.

Last night a colleague said Pacific fleets are going to the poorest places on the globe to recruit now.   Instead of looking for seafarers, unskilled crew from Nepal are being sought out.  I am strongly behind access to fishing work for all comers, but this is a red flag in a couple of ways.  It raises questions about how the rights and entitlements of untrained foreign crew can be protected at sea.  Is a premium on fishing knowledge inside the food system also slipping away?

All over the world I see fishermen use their fishing knowledge to persevere economically and also mind the store.  The Farnham fishing family in Long Island fish recently started a bycatch avoidance network  for haddock for example, with the Cornell Cooperative Network.  They are part of the corps of fishers on the Eastcoast who are helping to rebuild Atlantic cod and haddock stocks.  Fishers will share location data with their peers for a heads up about where they are encountering haddock, so they can avoid those fishing areas.   People like the Farnhams out there chasing wild fish for a living and caring for the biological system are taking care of the food system as a whole.

Michael Pollan said solving the food chain problem is about resolving the conflict between how machines like to work and how human bodies work.  Conflict is a terrific source of evolution.  Human bodies work hard on fishing boats, and they are not machines.  People function well with adequate food and rest, freedom of movement and power to negotiate as a free agent.  Unlike machines their efforts feed families and their hands work with dignity.  Humanizing the food machine means putting faces back onto the food at the family meal.  It will be achieved with a little gentility, ethics, and some room again for creativity and craft.  It’s not about work only but also respect for food.  Leaders are some of the biggest industrial producers in the middle of the chain, Thai Union, Nestle and Highliner.  These companies reach eaters in their daily meal and it is exciting to see them reaching out.  Reconnecting the biological aspect of fish and oceans to the social life of the meal is how industrial seafood is nourished.

Tremendous innovation is occurring in American restaurants but not enough yet around eating fish at home.  It’s not about the industry being perfect or omniscient or about adding and adding and adding checklists.  We learn a lot more about food from eating it than reading about it, if you think about it.  It’s not about adding and adding and adding ingredients either like additives for a pop of color.  Our bodies recognize food that is safe and food that is socialized.  We have to trust in that again.  I am convinced that future profitability in food is about marrying production back with taste and feeling and around re-socializing the meal.  Fish is healthy and delicious but today raises so many questions (sharks, turtles, slavery, illegal fishing……).  That is for sure a profit leak.

What if a personal connection makes food taste better?  That would be a big market opportunity, right?  Retail grocers like Wegmans and Whole Foods give food a story and deliver it in-store with a personal touch.  The big question looming is how can eaters be touched by seafood at home in the kitchen?  Appeal to the customer as an eater, I’d say, as though the critical mind has an outpost in the heart.  It definitely has one inside the digestive tract.  Here in Hawaii when invited for a meal to somebody’s home, the custom is to bring food from home.  It can be a cooked dish or a mango, avocado, breadfruit or passion fruit grown at home.  It’s a social way to add a little extra love and identity to the meal.  It’s not different from taking a minute to collect herbs from the pot on the stoop or a tomato from the backyard when cooking a meal at home.   There must be a way for us eaters to do something like it across the food chain to show respect and thankfulness to the producers at the base of the chain who put a lot of energy and soul into our food.

If we don’t eat fish, we lose sight of it.   We also lose big on nourishment.  Eat it to love it and, if you are a committed fish eater, how about mixing it up?  Pay attention to what tastes better and sits well in your stomach.  This species over that, which goes best with your favorite sauce?  Look at the label to see what’s local.  If you don’t see something that looks good in the fresh case check for seafood in the frozen aisle.  Nutritionally it’s worth a lot to your family and children’s future health to put seafood into the cart regularly.  Pay attention also to how fish is displayed in the store, how much the label is telling you (and not telling you) across the brands.  Look directly at the product and ask yourself, can I imagine where this was fished, and whose hands pulled it out of the water?

“Don’t be afraid to be picky about what you put in your body, because you have to live with it.” says Dr. Nadine Burke in the last video I’ll mention (there are 54!).  She also says Read labels. Read labels. Read labels.  “You can’t make an informed choice if you don’t know what’s in your food.”

Aloha from Katrina

Tackling Risk

AIG put out an incredible ad that says it all on tackling risk.

It features the New Zealand All Blacks waging a full scale attack on the innocent people of Tokyo.  Keep watching however and you’ll learn why.

It is fun to watch, despite the carnage.  The message is we’ve got a team of powerful agents who will do what it takes to make you safe, even if it hurts a little.  I respond to the message because our young company, the Sustainability Incubator, in its fifth year now, is similarly positioned in the food sector.  We have developed the tools companies need to address severe threats of illegal product in their trade, and the liability that comes with it.  It’s a hard sell because you can’t see the liability, like in the ad.

Some days it feels like we’re supposed to have eyes in the back of our head and other days it feels like it’s an esoteric age, with a lot of people making things up to try to sell to people (fake news, snake oil etc).  The thing is, it is a big time of transition and there is carnage.   In the food sector, the advantages markets have enjoyed from flexible labor and untraceable fish are starting to flip.  Some will be caught under falling debris, most likely distant buyers unaware of the product’s back story and the conditions of production at the base of the supply chain.  The All Blacks ad shows a smart, capable team of fast runners doing what needs to be done on the ground to protect people, even if it’s a little confronting.  I like that.

When cops become robbers, and robbers become cops.

Earlier I was asked by a client to consider changing the title of a white paper on illegal fishing.  The title of a manuscript for the Ocean Policy Research Institute in Japan had been Policy to Combat IUU Fishing.  ” I see a current trend for IUU strategy is moving towards “criminalizing fishers”, the client said, “and worry that your report that is very neutral would make an impression that it also has the tone. ”  It was a subtle but very good point.  Why was I using that word anyhow?  I went back and looked at the word “combat”.  It’s everywhere in the IUU fishing literature, from the title of the US Presidential Task Force to strategic documents on trade measures.   It’s also used in the banner of the Partnership for Freedom challenge we won earlier this year, to rethink supply chains to combat modern slavery in the making of goods and services.

What I’ve seen in Hawaii firsthand, since the Fall when the Associated Press alleged forced labor was occurring in the local longline fleet, was when the grey issues of fishing are framed in a cops and robbers format, bias is unleashed (all around).  It’s like permission to start making large allegations (here, without cases or evidence, testimony that bears out, or a current complaint to either the pier authorities, fleet association, or the many community groups supporting the fleet).  It leads to a wild goose chase for a villain.   It makes people think there is a villain, right off the bat, and that it must be industry.

But, is it?  Here in Hawaii the fishing crew, a professional corps nearly 700 strong from 6 countries,  who have said they want to be here and are paid as agreed, may have been used for a story and, possibly, some political advantage-taking.  The crew are terrified according to the community groups who support them, the crew are terrified of losing their jobs.  Ellen Stites, an Indonesian, returned to her country recently and visited the villages of crew working in the Hawaii fleet.  She said their families are extremely worried about the prospect of the men being sent home as fall out from AP’s story.  The Indonesian man named in it said he was used and misrepresented; and he wants to come back and fish.

The proposition on the table this week at the Hawaii State Capitol was to eliminate the jobs for the nearly 700 fishers altogether, by taking away the commercial licensing right from foreign crew.  How did we get here?  How did a good goal, of raising awareness of slavery in fishing, became a bad goal?

It does have something to do with the language around criminalizing fishers.  It’s almost inevitable to punish the target when a villain has been created for a story.

Meanwhile, a large network has been working hard behind the scenes since AP’s allegation to make things right for crew.   It includes the federal government agencies, law makers, anti-trafficking professionals, and community groups.  Everyone was brought together by the fleet and fish auction.  It’s not a one-off.   All hands and all eyes are needed from here on.  A new structure is taking shape.

Who is leading the work?  It’s the fleet association, the group portrayed as the robbers.

Every best practice step known in this area is being taken by the fleet.  There was a lot of pressure right away to check the box for different interests.  Instead of reacting and jumping, instead of refuting, the fleet focused on hearing straight from the crew.   The association hired an independent fisheries sociologist, Amy Gough, who is known to the fleet, to dig in and bring to light all aspects of work in the fleet known and unknown.   With interpreters for every crew language, Amy spent a month at the piers, day and night, interviewing hundreds of crew members without captains or owners present, basically all vessels in port in a month’s period.

Amy gathered the hundreds of details about work conditions which the US Department of Labor advised the fleet to gather to define and clarify working conditions.  I was hired by the Hawaii Seafood Council to write a code of practice for the fleet and we did it using the interview results together with guidance from the labor folks in Washington.  New and more formal roles for oversight are developing for community groups, the State of Hawaii and the Customs and Border Protection agency of Homeland Security, to offer support to the crew in many ways.

Getting a bit more forensic, how is it that the only proposal on the legislative table is to eliminate the foreign crew?    A handful of people continue to poke at the crew.   The most vocal person, other than the two AP reporters behind the series (who do not live here) has not been spotted helping crew at the piers but has been spotted on television carrying a sign calling a local boat owner a slaver.  There is no allegation about the crew members on his boat.  Actually the person named on the sign is the person organizing the changes needed and consistently speaking up for crew well-being.

The fleet is called the bad guy.  The fleet has shared every detail about working conditions (interview results, contracts, code of practice).  AP, the ‘cops’ here, have shared nothing and written only what serves a villain story line.  In their new story, where they could have taken their victory lap to say look we see teamwork and progress and big, good changes, instead they said crew are fishing illegally.  There it is: criminalizing the fishers.

In fact, the crew in the fleet fish with commercial licenses (a good thing), with permission to work in U.S. waters backed up by legal paperwork (a good thing), with legal rights and access to local services, including medical and migrant justice services (a good thing) and oversight from a growing number of parties (a good thing).   The story was about the State of Hawaii fishing license, where the fishery and its crew are regulated by federal officials, mostly at Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security.  You can read all about it in their manual.

AP’s story was written as though nobody had called the federal agencies to learn what they do and why.

Federal officials say they did talk to AP and explain everything.

Why would AP discard the knowledge to make it look like a State fishery?   It’s a federal fishery prosecuted outside of State waters.  Why would they say the men are illegal, undocumented, and without legal recourse, when the crew members have permission to work, are documented, fishing legally (with paperwork) and several ways forms of legal recourse, from legal aid and a T visa to assistance from CBP to change boats and employers when they want to.

Whatever the motive, the omissions are interesting.  Leaving out 99% of the story yields a perfect cops and robbers storyline.  If you go back and read the stories, try count the number of words which disparage everyone associated with fishing.

So yeah, criminalizing fishers sets a tone in a narrative that leads to change.  Cataclysmic change, if the crew members here lose their right to fish as a result.  Is that a good cops outcome, or a bad cops outcome?

It’s been painful.  Still, I can’t begrudge AP for trying to raise awareness.  Like I said I stumble in the same pursuit, for example using combative language without realizing the effect (thanks to my client for pointing out that “Policy to Combat IUU Fishing” is aggressive).    I am someone who has put myself in the middle between the industry and these grey areas too.  Not an easy space.  As if it were not uncomfortable enough, now I have also felt the leveling blow of an accusation.   The same people who rose to the challenge were vilified over little more than their identity in fishing.

Sure IUU fishing and slavery are issues in fishing/everywhere, but criminalizing fishers and industry is a worrisome trend.

My goal is making the human face of fishing visible.  To me it’s a beautiful dimension of the story behind our seafood.   There is always some tragedy when you look at the human dimension, of anything.  I want to blame AP for causing so much harm here, but that’s a fool’s game.  It’s a dangerous space.  Plus, looking around, there is so much opportunity around for win-win.

I look forward to working with organizations who see the dignity in this challenge.

VP of Indonesia comes aboard in Hawaii!

Wednesday morning fishing crew in Hawaii with Indonesian origins had the biggest surprise ever — the Vice President of their home country dropped in to see them!

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I had the honor of presenting the lei to  Jusuf Kalla, who we learned rose to prominence as a marine businessman himself.20161123_123617

The VP came by to let his countrymen know they are important.

It was a beautiful gesture and a sign of confidence.

Mr. Kalla honored crew with his time during a fuel stop on the way back to Indonesia from Peru and stayed for lunch.  News of his visit circulated rapidly in the morning and a call went around the piers for Indonesian crewmen to gather on the M/S Kawika.  The visit was graciously arranged by the local Indonesian committee, an informal organization serving local Indonesians in lieu of a Consul locally.

Hawaii vessel owners hosted the visit and provided a yummy lunch.

The Indonesian ambassador to the USA, military attache, transportation attache, and other higher ups from the Embassy of Indonesia in Washington DC came aboard too, and of course Indonesian secret service.

A local Indonesian, Dwi Coolsby, who is friendly with the crew, put it together.  Dwi gave an absolute gift to her countrymen.

Dwi said she has been trying to help Indonesian crew to communicate their position on working on Hawaii boats.  They were scared of losing it by Associated Press stories in September which misrepresented their status and satisfaction, Dwi said.

AP published a series which alluded to forced labor in Hawaii.  It’s tough to understand what the motivation is.

Dwi asked the Indonesian embassy to come and see for themselves and hear directly from the men.

Safe Seafood = Safe Fish + Safe People

Seafood sustainability is a value-adding proposition.  Ethical seafood on the other hand is a deal maker or breaker.  Today the market needs assurances food is safe, not only from tests along the cold chain showing food is safe to eat, but environmentally and ethically.  The big retailers have environmental procedures their vendors comply to, but what about tests to verify the production conditions behind the food are safe for people?  For food producers?

Not yet, but they are coming.

Today I was on the phone with an executive at a large US retailer who will be conducting vessel audits when he could be Christmas shopping.  He is a higher up who is going in person to the audits to make sure they are done right for his company but also potentially industry-wide.  He’ll be coming here to Hawaii where we are also preparing a model for protecting the rights and entitlements of fishing crew, which we have been working out together with the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB). We have an “auditable” set of procedures now and we are curious to see if they align with the retailer’s set.   It’s a great sign that agreement is around the corner and alignment is near, which means safe labor controls could be added to control systems for keeping food safe, alongside temperature and time controls.

It’s been awhile since I have made a post because I’ve been preoccupied with working out this equation, Safe Seafood = Safe Fish + Safe People.  I think we are getting there, and that is why I am speaking up.  There have been breakthroughs over the past months.  I’ve had the pleasure of hearing people speak up and asking questions about the producers behind our seafood.  They were always there, but we are starting to see the human face, and it is wonderful.  It is wonderful because there are a lot of honor and grace in seafood work, and there are benefits as well as risks, and we need to start putting these things back together in our programming.  Something I’ve been keen to rediscover in sustainable sourcing is the role of the customer and people passionate about good food.  I’ve been listening to executives and academics, policy makers and grant makers and also to school kids, fishers, processors and exporters these past months.  I was invited to speak at a number of events but have  focused on listening.

For a mini 2016-in-review these include the US-Japan Ocean Conservation Symposium in September, the Sustainable Shrimp Task Force meeting in Bangkok in June, the policy makers table at a celebration of sustainable seafood hosted by the Prince’s Charitable in London in June, the USAID Feed the Future Asian Agriculture Summit in Bangkok in May (GREAT event), an event to define the “high road” for firms at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights in Business at NYU-Stern in New York City in April, Partnership for Freedom bootcamp in Washington DC in February, and the SeaWeb event in Malta in January.

I listened for: what are people perceiving as risk?  What about seafood makes them feel healthy?  Where do they seek information? What are the factors they look at to make up their mind?

I was surprised by what I heard.  Attention has shifted from fish to people.  Seafood producers are characters in the story behind the food.  They are starting to be seen.  It won’t take long, I predict, for sector leaders to come to see producers as the key to future success, like in agriculture.  In 5 years we’ll be in a better place on ethical sourcing, and customers too.

Thank you and Aloha to the many people contributing to the shift.



What can a company do to be a Trusted Trader? Comments to NOAA & the Federal Register

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has asked for comments from the public to help it and other U.S. federal agencies define the criteria for “Trusted Traders”.  It is for a new program requiring traceability for imported seafood made from species at-risk for illegal fishing overseas.  Our understanding is criteria will be made available to U.S. seafood importing companies to qualify as Trusted Traders to fast track the process.

The Sustainability Incubator has provided comments, which may be found on the federal register.

We propose that Trusted Traders are those U.S. companies which can show due diligence for sourcing with legality. Rather than a cumbersome reporting program, we would like to suggest eligible companies can demonstrate how they are tracking the supply chains behind their products and managing for legality in procurement in an efficient and accurate way.

In sharing comments our purpose is to specify some of the ways American food companies seeking “Trusted Trader” status could report information to federal authorities to help end illegal fishing, recognizing it is one part of a shared responsibility across many parties—each needing to play their role too for any change to occur.

We also suggest NOAA consider the big data gaps. Suggestions are offered for things that can be measured to help enact the changes NOAA wants to see to lower illegal fishing worldwide. We offer a partial list of the information needed to track changes over time to see if things are getting any better.

Please see our comments in the document provided, entitled  Closing loopholes for imported seafood_Help from Trusted Traders_Sustainability Incubator_June 6 2016

Putting a face on smallholders to strengthen the industry’s future

In Bangkok on May 26th I was privileged to join a panel on Social Accountability in Supply Chains, together with Darian McBain from Thai Union and Emma Bourgois from Verifik8.  The event was called Feeding the Future and it was concerned with agriculture and aquaculture in Asia.  Today’s blog is about the ‘culture’ part of feeding the future.

First of all, it was a joyful experience.  Same kind of Bangkok hotel, same kind of concerns as in fishing but a wholly different feeling about food and, especially, about the value to the industry from the small producers at the front of supply chains.  In agriculture, they are valued.  In fact, at this event, smallholders’ constraints to success were the #1 priority, seen as the #1 determinant of the industry’s future success.  How completely refreshing, obvious, and very different from fishing, where migrant fishers and plant workers have no face and virtually no presence in procurement policy, NGO programming, or even academic writings on fishing.  Aquaculture is a little different.

Respect for the “culture” of food production is key to future success.  More fish for more people — it can’t be automated, but will result from better husbandry and stronger relationships, I am sure of it.

The theme of the event, hosted by USAID and Winrock International, was innovation.  Participants were asked to come to support technological innovation in agriculture and aquaculture in Asia.

In the day before our panel, leaders from fisheries research institutes from Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, India — well, all of the Asian nations, joined the aquaculture session — making for an incredible wealth of knowledge in one room.  There was one topic: small holders — how are they limited and what do they need?  The group came up with a short list of shared priorities which USAID will take forward and support through a regional business competition inviting Asia-based entrepreneurs to demonstrate their innovations and how they might advance food production in the region most effectively.  We also heard from innovative companies offering low cost technologies which small holders can afford, like, offering solar-powered irrigation, and eFishery, a fish feeding technology with a high degree of sensitivity to pond conditions.

It wasn’t a bells and whistles show or a hocus pocus platform for technology.  Everything I heard at the event was down to earth and very much about human development: learning, growing, expanding.

I have roots in agriculture, having nearly become a soil scientist and writing a thesis on agricultural extension for my undergrad.  Still, above the familiarity from my nostalgia, there was something very important here for fishing.  It’s this question:  where is the producer’s human face in our sector’s definition of seafood sustainability?  Why can’t we see it?

For the industry to flourish, we’re going to need to start recognizing it.

Special thanks to Katie Henke at Winrock International for organizing the panel and to Darian and Emma for making it fun.  Huge mahalo to Sompong and Patima for attending from the Labour Rights Promotion Network, Ken Kennedy from DHS, Nicole Kenny from NYU Stern, and Cheryl He and Doniell Silva from Concordia.

With much Aloha,



Fishy Business

I’ve been in seafood for twenty years and it’s time to show love again for the “food” part, after some years of emphasizing the “sea”.

Here at Sustainability Incubator we are working for good food.  For three years it’s mostly been about connecting people and oceans better — inside supply chains, up to retailers, and out to local communities.  Now what’s on the plate for us is helping companies take up a clear strategy to face regulatory reforms.

Eight years ago I was still a restaurant owner and seller of fish myself.  I like to feed people amazing seafood when it comes down to it, and continue to look for new ways to pursue that golden thread.

Innovation is key, and that means finding ever-new ways to be inspired.  Last weekend I spent an afternoon in a derelict building.  Built in 1940, it has commercial zoning and a great location, also a cool Chinese roof with upturned corners.  Sitting there for hours talking and thinking out loud with two agents, it was a fun place to be, a mini slice of dense urban life in my otherwise suburban neighbourhood of East Honolulu.  The property is right behind a 7-11.  All the different types of people cross that corner – a man in hot pink stripes head to toe, comers and goers from a nerdy coffee shop next door and from the alley, stacked with walk up rentals.  I couldn’t help thinking I could sell a lot of poke.  It feels great to get inspired.  It’s a kind of renewal.

This year at Sustainability Incubator we are emphasizing touch and the taste of food.  Seafood should leave the best taste in your mouth.  If there are problems in production, you taste it.  Stress for example, you can taste stress in the food.  Back in British Columbia years ago we showed it to the market with supple sashimi made from live-caught sockeye salmon.  Fisher Fred Hawkshaw caught and kept his sockeye salmon alive until a customer was ready with an ice slurry.  He’d pump extra oxygen into the hold where the salmon were swimming.  They’d get sleepy, go dormant.  Fred’s family worked quickly and popped a gill, then cleaned the fish immaculately and guess what?  The salmon never went into rigor mortis.  It was a vibrant and delicious product with twice the shelf life, a high % of TLC and innovation.  You didn’t even need to know any of that.  Taste set it apart.

The Sustainability Incubator is an advisory firm helping seafood companies to advance sustainability and solve human rights challenges.

Lately there are tough matters to contend with like slavery and illegal fishing which don’t taste good.  Their severity is causing regulatory reform, and our goal is to help food companies to move forward with a clear strategy.  I work on these matters most days and what I think about them, on a personal level, is it’s a choice, maybe an attitude.  Rather than focus on any good guy/bad guy, high horse/underbelly, push/pull dichotomies, I am inspired by the beauty of the decision to act.  Absolutely I want to work with companies seeking to ensure their products are made by producers who are paid, not held captive, or forced through 20 hours a day on amphetamines and threatened with violence.  But it’s also about how the food is thought about.  It’s about caring for its taste.

The history of the abolition decision in the USA in 1865, and in the UK in 1833, is definitive and powerful.  It was an ethical choice made by free people to defend the spirit of freedom.  Like love, human dignity is a quest.  We take inspiration from it, and follow our nose.

Plus, we love to eat tasty seafood!

Eat it to love it.

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