The Seafood Expo North America (SENA) is North America’s largest seafood show, bringing exhibitors from more than 40 countries to Boston for three days of meeting, greeting and, most importantly, selling to North American buyers of seafood and seafood-related products. Concurrent with the show on the exhibit floor, SENA hosts a conference addressing some of the most important and timely issues in the seafood industry. As a freelance journalist who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability, the conference is usually my focus when covering SENA, and this year will be no different. While last year much of my focus was on the role of aquaculture in the future of food security, this year I’m choosing to look at responsibility.
Responsibility is such a ubiquitous word today that its true meaning and import is often lost, especially in discussions of corporations, society and individuals. When it comes to seafood, however, corporate responsibility, social responsibility and personal responsibility are topics that are more important than ever and ones that cannot afford to get lost in the noise of seafood branding and marketing. When it comes to seafood corporations acting responsibly, it needs to be more than a published goal achieved. When it comes to society acting responsibly, it needs to be more than a rubber stamp. And when it comes to individuals acting responsibility, it needs to be more than lip service.
Those interested in seeing a more responsible seafood industry from fish to fork need to ask—and keep asking—some central questions. Are seafood companies that claim they have achieved their sustainability goals actively taking responsibility for becoming more sustainable? Are social campaigns that greenlight a seafood product because it meets certain criteria really taking responsibility for creating a more responsible industry? Are individuals that download a sustainable seafood app actually taking responsibility for supporting a truly sustainable seafood industry that can play a leading role in the future of global food security? These are big questions, but they are ones that are more important than ever given the current disposition of the seafood industry and the challenges it faces.
Today more than 90 percent of seafood consumed by Americans is imported, a fact that has major implications for food safety, a fact about which Americans are becoming increasingly cognizant. To truly be responsible, however, aren’t the socio-economic aspects of bringing an imported seafood product to market equally important? While it’s critical to be able to trace an individual seafood product back to a fishery or aquaculture facility that actively mitigates human health risks, isn’t it equally important from a responsibility standpoint to insure that those providing the labor to bring that product to market are being treated equitably?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published new dietary guidelines that encourage American to eat more seafood. The US domestic fishing industry would like to be able to meet at least some of what all SENA16 attendees hope will be an increased demand for seafood products. As National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Regional Administrator John Bullard told attendees of the Maine Fishermen’s Forum last week, consumers should “choose to eat fish that are managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act because these are the toughest rules in the world.” In short, consumers should choose seafood harvested in the US because they can have the most confidence in it. But how will US harvested seafood fare in a global market where the seafood industry and consumers put a premium on price in an ever-escalating race to the bottom? Quality seafood needs to be accessible to consumers, but seafood products that earn pennies on the dollar and only create profits when handled in the type of volume that too often encourage irresponsible behavior at myriad points along the supply chain undercut the ability of US seafood producers to compete on a global scale.
The conference at SENA16 will address many of these topics by bringing some of the industry’s thought leaders together to discuss the big issues behind the slogans, promises and marketing campaigns on the show floor. I look forward to sharing with you what I hear over the next three days on Twitter (Twitter.com/RetTalbot), on Facebook (Facebook.com/GoodCatchBlog) and here at www.GoodCatchBlog.com. I’m also looking forward to bringing you more comprehensive coverage on certain aspects of the show in an upcoming article at Mongabay.com. As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions.