Twenty five billion dollars (give or take). That’s the collective value of the eight multinational seafood companies that now comprise Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SEABOS) – a newly formed coalition designed to address some of the ocean’s most serious environmental challenges.
Rewind to a much-talked about study in 2013 entitled ‘Transnational Corporations as Keystone Actors in Marine Ecosystems’. Henrik Österblom and his colleagues found that 13 large multinationals control upwards of 40% market share for key seafood commodities like tuna, salmon and small pelagic fish (like anchovies and mackerel).
Since then, the authors have been reaching out to each of these corporate leaders in the hopes that their market influence could be harnessed for the betterment of global ocean health. Eight of them eventually convened last month in the Maldives with help from Stockholm Resilience Center, Forum for the Future, scientific and industry advisors, and support from Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. At the end of this Keystone Dialogue, the signatories released a joint statement with a list of 10 specific commitments.
Among them are noble pledges to curb illegal fishing, improve traceability, eliminate slavery, reduce ocean plastic, and ratchet back greenhouse gas emissions. But two of the less glamorous commitments really stood out for me:
- [We will] Engage in science-based efforts to improve fisheries and aquaculture management and productivity, through collaboration with industry, regulators and civil society.
- [We will] Collaborate and invest in the development and deployment of emerging approaches and technologies for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.
The reason these are so important? Every one of the eight companies in SEABOS – even the ones that farm salmon or produce aquafeeds – is reliant upon wild-caught fish for their business. And at the moment, wild fisheries are a hugely underperforming asset, due to decades of overfishing, incomplete science, and regulations that incentivize fishermen to compete rather than conserve.
But we now know that this doesn’t have to be our fisheries future. New research reveals that by 2050 sustainably managed fisheries could increase wild fish catch by almost one-third, generating more than $50 billion in additional annual profits, and more than doubling global fish populations. Getting there won’t be easy, and we’ll no doubt have to make lots of tough choices along the way, but a fully bought-in seafood industry sure would make a big difference.
Make no mistake about it. SEABOS is a tremendous first step and at the moment I am filled with #OceanOptimism. But now comes the hard part – getting concrete about what the commitments will actually entail, both within their respective companies and across their sectors. So to really deliver in a meaningful way they are going to need help – with sound science, good policy, and smart politics (just to name a few).
Luckily, the conservation community has a strong track record of collaboration with the seafood industry. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that getting fisheries right takes a village. So I say to the ambitious leaders of SEABOS – my colleagues and I will be waiting for your call.
Tim Fitzgerald leads EDF’s global programs on fisheries finance, training and capacity building, and seafood markets and supply chain engagement in an effort to improve the sustainability of the world’s fisheries. He serves on the boards of the California Fisheries Fund, Ecofish LLC and GulfWild®, and is an advisor to Fair Trade USA and the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions. Originally trained as a shark scientist, Tim has appeared on Shark Week and National Geographic Explorer, and also been featured in Time, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and NPR’s Fresh Air. He also provided invited testimony to President Obama’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Follow Tim on Twitter.