Sustainability is a word you seem to hear everywhere today, as consumers become more conscious of the environment. As you would expect, sustainability plays a significant role in the food supply chain. As an example, the commercial fishing industry has ramped up their focus on providing a more sustainable product. Sustainable seafood suppliers employ methods that simultaneously reduce bycatch, promote both small and large business distribution, and improve seafood quality. All seafood harvested within the United States is, in fact, sustainable, as the U.S. has developed a comprehensive process to ensure quality as well as monitor and improve the programs fisheries have in place.
Imported seafood, on the other hand, may not always come from a sustainable source as they do not have to meet the same standards as U.S. seafood. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported that “recent estimates of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) catches have revealed substantial IUU instances worldwide between 13% and 31% of reported catches, and over 50% in some regions. This illegal catch is valued at between $10 and $23.5 billion per year.”
Companies not already practicing sustainable sourcing have two options:
1. Wait for increasingly stringent regulations to force them to change, or
2. Begin to source sustainably and help local independent fishing communities improve conditions on their own.
If change does not occur in the near term, fish stocks will be depleted due to overfishing, climate change, pollution and ocean acidification, and these companies not only ruin their reputations, but also their market share, supply and profit.
Some large organizations such as McDonalds and Whole Foods have already made strides to source seafood sustainably, incorporating practices to ensure their supply base can demonstrate that they are using the correct practices. Through these companies’ efforts, “more than 10% of global seafood is now independently certified as compliant with Marine Stewardship Council sustainability standards, representing more than 20,000 seafood products.” However, this is just a drop in the bucket. Even companies with the best intentions will not be able to meet the global customer demand mainly due to the fact that independent fisheries make up nearly 50% of the world’s fish. Small fishermen do not have the time, money or reach necessary to take advantage of new market opportunities or benefit from the premiums tacked onto sustainable seafood.
In the past, large companies did not have time to deal with ensuring the quality and sustainability of independent fishers’ practices. The cost of doing so is high, and companies would rather purchase on a much larger scale. But after yet another scandal involving slave-like conditions on Thai fishing boats, social awareness has never been higher. Large-scale retailers such as Walmart, Kroger and Costco are already benefiting through raising their sustainability standards and improving their supply chain, even going to the extent of reaching out to small local fisheries in low-income communities. The time to become sustainable is now, as consumer focus continues to increase on buying a known sustainable product—even if it means paying a premium.
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