By FishWise, Walton Family Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Search “farm to table” online and it is likely you’ll see recommended restaurants in your area. Or maybe places where you can buy local meat and produce straight from the source. Whether out of a concern for the environment or wanting to support their local producers, consumers want to know where their food comes from. In a massive global food economy, these bits of information tell a story, allowing you to trace your dinner’s path.
But what if a product’s story is not as simple as locally grown produce? What about food whose path touches multiple countries, even multiple continents? This is the case with seafood, the most traded food commodity in the world. Your salmon fillet may have crossed four international lines on its way to your plate across a complex web of production. And the challenge of knowing where your fish came from can also enable illegal activity like human trafficking and damaging fishing practices.
It’s estimated that up to 30% of global fishing catch comes from illegal sources, costing the global economy up to $23 billion annually. Law-breaking vessels can be associated with organized crime, forced labor and human trafficking. To make matters worse, misidentified fish—the type, where and when they were caught and what gear was used to catch them—can happen at almost every step of the supply chain.
While grocery retailers, food service companies and their suppliers in the U.S. and Europe have made tremendous progress in recent years, their work can be undermined by bad actors seeking an advantage in the marketplace.
In the battle to combat illegal fishing, traceability is becoming a powerful weapon. Great work is being done around the world to hone this tool. In Chile, fishers and government are working together to achieve Marine Stewardship Council certification, a well-known eco-certification that includes its own traceability standards. Indonesia became the first country to publicly release its vessel monitoring system data, meaning anyone can see where boats are fishing in Indonesian waters. Peru has decided to release its data as well. While these are promising examples, there is the need to scale solutions to address the enormity of the problem.
The good news is that a new partnership among the conservation NGO FishWise, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Walton Family Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation brings together diverse stakeholders from around the world to collaborate on novel solutions to this complex problem.
The Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT) is an initiative to strengthen sustainable fisheries management by engaging a vast network of participants, including countries that produce and consume seafood, the seafood industry and other stakeholders seeking to advance responsible seafood production and marine conservation. FishWise will implement the project and brings deep expertise in traceability, human rights, business engagement and convening diverse groups.
SALT will convene sustainable seafood stakeholders from around the world to share their traceability projects and stories in order to learn from each other and identify the challenges best addressed through collaboration. One story about technology from South America could catalyze ideas for improvement in Southeast Asia. Partnerships could spark innovation. With this knowledge exchange, we can slowly pull apart the complexity of seafood supply chains and paint a clearer picture of what traceability success and effective management look like.
Without collaboration among restaurants, farmers and consumers, the farm to table movement would not have swept throughout the American food economy, revolutionizing the way some people think about food. It took stakeholders coming together to decide what works best for farmers, the foodservice industry, and the communities they cater to.
With the complexity of seafood traceability, collaboration is key. We hope that SALT will be an important step forward in that effort. When everyone involved in the seafood industry comes together, they can identify solutions that will work for the fishermen who catches the fish to the consumer who buys it. A simple idea like local, traceable produce led to scalable solutions, and with the right means, global seafood sustainability is also possible.
Lead photo: Joel Policarpio