Why industry collaboration is key to the success of fishery improvement projects

Cameron Moffat, CSR Manager at Young’s Seafood

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is especially important for us here at Young’s, and a big part of our commitment to sustainability is our work with global Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) in order to support the responsible sourcing of our fish.

In response to World Ocean’s Day on 8th June, our CSR Manager, Cameron Moffat, authored the following article which looks into why industry collaboration is so important to the success of our sustainability initiatives, such as FIPs. As this is something we’re really passionate about, we want to encourage the industry to pull together to achieve our collective goal of sustainable sourcing.

This article was originally featured on Undercurrent, find the original article here.

The seafood industry is acutely aware of the pressing issue of overfishing. In 2018, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) reported that the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels increased from 10 percent in 1974 to 33.1 in 2015. In a world with an ever-growing population, the seafood sector will play an increasingly important role in food security and livelihoods.

This is particularly pertinent for countries such as the UK which does not have enough seafood in our own waters to meet the nation’s demand. Overall, the UK has less than 70 percent of the seafood that we need, and for some species it is significantly less – for example, in our own waters we have less than 10% of the cod that we currently consume. With this in mind, ensuring the sustainability of fish stocks has never been more important than it is now.

In an effort to restore balance to fish and seafood ecosystems, Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) have launched across the world to meet the challenge. However, their success relies on cross-industry collaboration, along with vital input from the government and representative bodies.

What is a FIP and why are they important for sustainability?

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) defines FIPs as multiple stakeholder initiatives that aim to improve the sustainability of fishing practices across a range of commercial species. Fundamentally, their goal is to ensure that fisheries reach an 80+ score on the MSCs performance indicator for measuring stock sustainability, looking at the proactive maintenance of ecosystems and the effective management within local, national and international laws.

In order to be deemed a credible FIP, the project must also meet a set of requirements, including transparency around progress and aims of the project, evidence of tangible results towards sustainability goals and regular independent assessment.

FIPs are a global initiative, there are currently 70 actively listed FIPs worldwide (see Fishery Progress map below), and they relate to many different challenges across the industry. Through running internal risk assessments of the species in our supply chain, Young’s have taken the steps to actively engage in 7 FIPs, both domestic and internationally. For instance, Young’s is a partner in two FIPs working towards the more sustainable management of three species in the North Sea, one focussed on plaice and lemon sole, and one on nephrops (scampi). Each of these FIPs also has a range of other active stakeholders, including national retailers, NGOs, scientists, government bodies and seafood businesses. They have also contributed greatly to our Fish for Life programme, which embodies our commitment to bringing seafood to our customers in a responsible, sustainable manner that protects our industry and environment.

Source: Fishery Progress 2020

In order to support the increasing consumer demand for responsibly sourced seafood, these projects aim to untangle some of the complex challenges within the seafood sector and support Greenpeace’s overarching mantra of ‘reject the worst, select the best and improve the rest’. By incentivising sustainable practices in more fisheries, we are able to diversify the offering to consumers in terms of responsible buying and opening them up to new species which they may not have considered previously.

How far have we come, and how far do we have to go?

In short, we are making progress, but we still have a way to go in creating a sustainable fishing future. It is estimated that only 15 per cent of the global catch is MSC certified. But this is not to undermine the excellent work that is happening in both domestic and international fishery improvement projects. We are particularly proud for instance, to have been involved with the FIP initiative for Canadian Atlantic cod since shortly after its’ inception in 2015.

The collapse of the world’s largest cod fishery on the Grand Banks in 1992 has become one of the most iconic events in world fisheries, and the journey to rebuild cod stocks in the Northwest Atlantic has been slow ever since. However, since the creation of the FIP for the area known as 2J3KL, we are now seeing progress towards this fishery becoming certified as sustainable by the MSC, a target which we hope to achieve by the year 2025. The fishing companies could not have achieved this on their own, it has taken a collaborative effort involving many stakeholders, including businesses such as Young’s and our retail client Marks and Spencer to help reverse the fortunes of this once great fishery.

Marine ecosystems are dynamic in nature and therefore the ability for FIPs to adapt and evolve is vital. New challenges are presented to us every day; ecosystems change, consumer demand shifts rapidly, and even political decisions can have significant impacts on the way that fisheries are managed. Therefore, stakeholders across the board must be able to respond quickly and be flexible with their plans. The collective end goal is to make the industry more sustainable as a whole, and to achieve this we need all relevant parties to pull together to ensure that goals are met, action plans put in place and that we have the means and the funds to ensure that we deliver on our promises.

Why is it so important that the entire industry needs to be on board with these initiatives?

We have seen collaborative initiatives succeed in recent years, with a notable example being the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC). The SSC is a partnership of UK businesses united in working towards a healthy future for the world’s oceans, it has been particularly helpful in creating a shared understanding and approach for seafood buyers in recognising the conditions where fishery improvement engagements are required in order for responsible sourcing claims to be met. As a founding partner, Young’s has benefitted greatly from the exchange of knowledge, expertise and resources as a result of the collaborative effort, whilst simultaneously providing much assistance to others within the coalition.

We have been able to significantly progress our Fish for Life programme and stride towards meeting sustainability development goals as a result of collaborative FIPs. Improving the credentials of a wider variety of fish species means that we can encourage consumers to enjoy a wider variety of delicious seafood products than ever before.

Young’s recognised many years ago that some of the problems we face as an industry cannot be solved by any individual business. We believe that sustainability projects which operate in isolated siloes may be able to achieve small pockets of progress but will not move the industry significantly towards tangible success in developing a more sustainable fishing future. This is one area where even businesses that compete with each other in the commercial marketplace have a mutual and pre-competitive interest in working together to improve the sustainability of the natural resource upon which we all rely. As we are in this for the long haul, we should be in it together.