Bribery, corruption and a rabbit hole of shell companies that would not be out of place in the Paradise Papers often go hand in hand with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Given the rapid and continual decline of fish stocks, many current fishery practices and management systems are simply not fit for purpose and need to be urgently addressed.
Unsustainable production and consumption
Seafood production and consumption presents a major challenge to our ability to manage the earth’s resources sustainably. Fishing effort has often exceeded the ability of fish stocks to maintain themselves and the impact on non-target species (including potentially vulnerable species such as sharks, turtles, and marine mammals) can be severe. The results have often been stark; many fish stocks have declined just when our need for increased food production is greatest and the marine ecosystem has been significantly degraded.
At stake is a multibillion dollar global industry, one of the oldest in the world.
According to the United Nations1, the livelihoods of over three billion people depend on marine and coastal diversity, and 2.6 billion people count the oceans as their primary source of protein. The market value of the world’s marine and coastal resources is estimated at $3 trillion per year, or around five percent of global GDP.
Slipping through the net
Rapid and unchecked expansion has already proved disastrous for the Chilean farmed salmon industry. First gaining public attention in June 2007, Infectious Salmon Anaemia spread quickly through supplies, not helped by large concentrations of salmon pens that facilitated the transfer of the disease. New practices and legislation have been introduced, but this was too late for the farmers that lost billions of dollars in revenue following the contagion.
The European Union (EU) has given Thailand, the world’s third-largest seafood exporter, a ‘yellow card’ telling it to crack down on illegal fishing or face a trade ban on its fish imports. It is the most high-profile action taken by the EU against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing since 2010 regulations against such practises came into force.
The Thai fishing industry is plagued with human rights abuses and fuelled by trafficked labour from neighbouring Myanmar and Cambodia. In 2014, the US State Department’s trafficking in persons report downgraded Thailand to tier three, the lowest ranking. South Korea and the Philippines though have escaped the commission’s net after bringing in legal reforms and improved control and inspection systems. Unless Thailand cleans up its fishing industry, it faces an embargo on exporting its seafood to the EU. EU vessels could also be prevented from fishing in Thai waters.
What should companies be doing?
The seafood supply chain has significant influence over the behavior of producers and the agencies that regulate them. It is entirely possible for companies to avoid fish that are illegally caught, support well-managed fisheries and fish farms that are certified to credible standards, support the responsible management of aquaculture resources across regions, and encourage fisheries that are trying to improve.
The most important first step that a company can take towards responsible behavior is to formulate and adopt a responsible seafood policy. Such a policy does not entail avoiding poorly managed fisheries and confining procurement to “sustainable fisheries,” but involves a commitment to continuous improvement and transparency with ambitious targets in the future.
What should investors be doing?
Laying early foundations for responsible policies: Investors should work with companies to formulate and adopt a responsible seafood policy from the outset of the association. This should demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement and transparency, with ambitious targets for the future.
Influencing the supply chain: Investors should encourage supply chain companies to ensure producers avoid fish that are illegally caught; support well-managed fisheries and fish farms that are certified to credible standards; support the responsible management of aquaculture resources across regions; and encourage fisheries that are trying to improve.
Ask material questions: The report sets out questions investors should put to companies to gauge the level of responsibility and sustainability already built into their operations and to ascertain areas for development.
What should consumers be doing?
NGO’s such as the Marine Conservation Society and the Monterrey Aquarium have produced apps that help consumers identify environmentally responsible choices when buying seafood. This knowledge can increase the likelihood of consumers speaking up about their concerns if they spot a threatened species on the menu or at the seafood counter.
Should we be eating fish at all?
As legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle said in her recent TED talk and Netflix documentary “Except for those living in coastal communities — or even inland if we’re talking freshwater species — for most people, eating fish is a choice, not a necessity. We have seen such a sharp decline in the fish that we consume in my lifetime that I personally choose not to eat any.”