This piece has been published in the February 2021 edition of the Chinese trade media FishFirst
The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) is a US-registered nonprofit that operates globally to rebuild depleted fish stocks and reduce the environmental and social impacts of fishing and fish farming. SFP has been working with IFFO, The Marine Ingredients Organization, for many years to seek opportunities to support improvements and enhance sustainability in global fisheries that provide marine ingredients. SFP has engaged numerous individual IFFO members through fishery improvement projects and supply chain roundtables. Most recently, SFP has been working with IFFO to jointly develop a global marine ingredients roundtable, a precompetitive platform designed to support environmental and social improvements in key fisheries globally, track and report on improvements, and offer objective information on the status of fisheries providing marine ingredients.
Dave Martin is Director for Aquaculture and Reduction Fisheries at SFP.
Over the 11 years the Reduction Fisheries Sustainability overview has been published, we have seen a steady trend of continuous improvements in fisheries and expanded engagement by the supply chain to drive, support and reward these improvements. In early versions of the reports, there were no fisheries that met the criteria for the top “Very-well managed” category, and those in the top 3 categories (where all FishSource scores are above 6) made up just over 70% of volumes assessed. By 2018, 91% of assessed volume was in the top three categories. Over the years, we have also seen standards for aquaculture feed adopt sustainability requirements for increasing proportions of marine ingredients to be certified or making demonstrable improvements.
However, over the past two years there have been slight decreases in that volume in the top 3 categories, and we are concerned we have reached a plateau. Management scores in many fisheries have remained relatively static over the last decade. More troubling is that some fisheries have slipped backwards; this year most notably Northeast Atlantic blue whiting, which along with mackerel and herring have recently had their MSC certifications suspended.
Southeast Asia and Northwest Africa fisheries remain regions of major concern due to significant environmental and social challenges. We have seen several improvement efforts fail to gain traction over the past decade. MarinTrust, the certification programme for marine ingredients, launched a pilot project to test criteria for assessing complex multispecies fisheries in 2018, but to date only one project has been accepted into the program and only in November 2020. Across Asia we see many countries that are leading fishmeal and aquaculture producers and consumers—including China, Indonesia, India and Japan—that do not have any MarinTrust-certified fishmeal plants.
Focus on the 2019-2020 period
2020 has certainly been a difficult year for fisheries, especially due to the impacts of Covid-19 which has disrupted artisanal and commercial fisheries globally and delayed stock assessments for several of the fisheries covered in our report (and elsewhere of course). But there were also some issues highlighted in the report that were not driven by COVID.
In the Northeast Atlantic, there are are ongoing allocation disputes between different governments that harvest blue whiting, mackerel and herring, resulting in combined total allowable catch limits (TACs) and harvests well above the levels advised by ICES and anticipated in the long-term management plans. This has resulted in the suspension of MSC certificates for these fisheries. SFP wants to see the total catch become sustainable, but we cannot take a view on how the harvest should be allocated. We welcome the constructive role the feed industry and many of our retailers are playing in working to drive improvements through the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group.
In Peru, two branches of government—the Ministry of Production (PRODUCE) and the Marine Institute (IMARPE)—are involved in a legal dispute over the stock assessment process. Given the uncertainties this creates, SFP is not in a position to make a determination this year regarding scores for stock health and fishing pressure for Peruvian Northern-Central anchoveta. This fishery alone makes up 42.4 percent of the volume of fisheries assessed in the report. We would encourage all stakeholders to help bring the legal dispute to a formal close as soon as possible and support the ongoing fishery improvement project.
The role of the marine ingredients value chain with regard to fisheries management
The marine ingredients industry and wider value chain both have critical role to play in improving fisheries management and performance. Sustainable fisheries are good business for all levels of the value chain; they help stabilize supplies and prices and help protect reputational risks that arise through illegal practices, harm to endangered species or ecosystems, and other bad practices in fisheries. Large buyers, such as feed companies, pet food and nutraceutical manufacturers, can use their leverage to encourage change all the way down their supply chains, from their wholesalers and suppliers down to the fishers out on the water. In turn, this market support can help producers and exporters work with governments and researchers to improve management. A Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) is an engagement model that brings together buyers, traders, processors, and producers to improve practices in a source fishery. FIPs are also recognized in aquaculture feed standards and retail and food service procurement policies, and thus can provide direct market recognition for fisheries engaged in improvement.
Environmental indicators of fishmeal and fish oil alternatives
Over the past several years, there have been growing calls from NGOs and others to replace marine ingredients in aquaculture feed with novel alternatives—including insects, micro- and macroalgae, yeast, and crops—in the name of sustainability. As part of a project in Indonesia, SFP commissioned an overview of sustainability advantages, disadvantages, and outstanding questions around several of these ingredients. Two broad findings are fundamental to this discussion. First, the various alternatives under discussion bring a variety of environmental and other trade-offs that must be fully considered across their full life cycle before they can be considered “sustainable”. More importantly for SFP, it is unclear whether even widespread adoption of novel alternatives would have any net conservation benefit for fisheries. Rather than reducing pressure on fisheries, it is more likely that fishmeal and oil “displaced” by alternatives will simply go to other agricultural feeds, pet food, dietary supplements, or similar uses (which may have less industry support for sustainability than the aquaculture feed sector). At the same time, development of sustainable alternatives could have positive benefits by supporting expansion of sustainable aquaculture, which is now to some degree constrained by the availability of fishmeal and oil. We welcome ongoing industry interest and research on these alternatives.
Driving positive change in the sector
At Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), we are working toward a world where all seafood is produced sustainably. For seafood and marine ingredients, this means ensuring that the amount of seafood harvested does not threaten the health of the species population, or stock. There are also other important considerations, including safeguarding healthy marine and aquatic ecosystems; preventing negative impacts on endangered, threatened, and protected species; and protecting the livelihoods, health, and safety of fishers and fishing communities.
SFP was founded with the intention of mobilizing the private sector– retailers and food service, and also the marine ingredients industry and entire seafood value chain – to get more involved in solutions to rebuild the world’s most depleted fisheries and reduce the negative environmental and social impacts of fishing and fish farming. SFP and others have worked to create precompetitive platforms, such as the proposed global marine ingredients roundtable, to help industry use their collective market leverage and influence to promote sustainable fisheries, including precautionary management, harvest limits based on good science, effective compliance and enforcement, and fish stocks that are healthy now and will be healthy in the future. Fisheries should all be managed at a level that meets the Marine Stewardship Council standard. Fisheries that provide marine ingredients should at a minimum meet the Marin Trust standard and strive for an MSC performance level even if not certified.