The $400-billion global seafood industry has no choice but to adapt to intensifying demand from retailers and consumers for environmentally friendly ‘greener’ fish that are not taken from overexploited stocks, farmed in ponds where mangroves once stood or caught in nets that also snag endangered turtles, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“The push towards sustainable fisheries is not just coming from government or environmental groups, but from the market itself,” FAO Fishing Industries Division Director Grimur Valdimarsson told a three-day Seafood Industry Congress which ended in Dublin, Ireland, yesterday, noting that major seafood retailers like Unilever, Tesco, Walmart and Asda have already committed to putting on their shelves only fish that was harvested or raised sustainably.
“In recent years the seafood industry has been uncertain as to whether these trends represent a momentary fad. Today, there’s no question: it’s real, it’s a sea change, and it’s the way of the future,” he said.
In broad terms, this means that producers will need to be able to assure retailers and consumers that their catch complies with the demands of sustainable development and doing so requires monitoring fishing activities via tracking systems, labels and similar mechanisms.
Resource-strapped developing countries will have a particularly hard time making the transition to fully certifying their fisheries. “They've already been struggling mightily to comply with health and safety regulations on fish imports put into place by importing countries in the developed world,” Mr. Valdimarsson explained.
Helping resolve this problem is an issue of particular importance to FAO and retailers shaping market trends have a responsibility to help suppliers in the developing world cope, he said, adding that FAO and other international development organizations working on fisheries and aquaculture will need new resources to help the developing world’s fisheries sector adapt.
This year’s Congress was co-organized by FAO, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the International Food Quality Certification Group, and Ireland's Sea Fisheries Protection Authority in collaboration with the International Association of Fish Inspectors and with the support of the Irish Sea Fisheries Board, Enterprise Ireland, and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
The congress has traditionally focused on seafood safety and quality issues, but environmental concerns have risen higher on its agenda in recent years.