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.