/ Economic impact / Pacific progress: emerging markets for sustainable fishing

Pacific progress: emerging markets for sustainable fishing

Sustainable fish counter in Coles
Patrick Caleo explores the new platforms emerging for sustainable fisheries in the Pacific.
Patrick Caleo on March 2, 2016 - 10:00 am in Economic impact, Improving fisheries, Ocean health
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In Australia, there’s been a marked shift in the seafood industry. Now, it’s absolutely clear to the supply chain and the retailers that consumers want to know more about what they’re buying.  They might not always choose certified goods at the counter, but they want to know whether their products are sourced responsibly, where they come from – and that someone’s taking care of these things. That’s not just true of fish: a great deal of progress has been made in free range chicken eggs, pigs, and so on. For Australia’s food sector, sustainability has become part of doing business.

A big commitment to sustainable seafood certification

The Western Australian Government has made some big commitments to sustainable seafood certification. All fisheries now have the opportunity to achieve MSC certification as the government has paid for the full assessment process, spending 14.5 million Australian dollars. In addition the South Australian Government has begun offering to match fisheries’ contributions towards third party certification.

Western Australia rock lobster pots

Western Australia rock lobster pots

Many fisheries are also taking their own initiatives – and not just for commercial reasons. In 2015, the world’s first recreational fishery entered into full MSC assessment. Tremendous leadership is being displayed by this community of fishing enthusiasts who are using their MSC assessment as a tool to demonstrate a truly collaborative approach to not just sharing a resources but acting as stewards to manage it responsibly. For them, there’s no market incentive. What’s driving a lot of this work is essentially passionate individuals that care: champions who see the case for change and are reaching out to make it happen.

More than just a way to tell a great story

As a consequence, the MSC now has support from most of the major seafood brands and supermarkets in Australia. For some, it’s a marketing opportunity, a way to tell a great story. Others use it as a way to meet their corporate social responsibility objectives, and some see it as an opportunity to improve management processes. They come to us saying, “We care about sustainable sourcing and we want to get better at it!” Then competition across producers, suppliers and brands cuts in. You see it especially if a leading brand starts to participate: others follow.

A platform across the nation

Coles, a major retailer in Australia, has now put MSC and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) logos on their seafood deli counters. This gives fisheries a platform right across the nation – so that’s going to stimulate further competition. Everyone wants to talk about what’s fresh, what’s local, so this over-the-counter context can spark interactions between supermarket staff and customers.

MSC banana prawns on ice in Coles supermarket

MSC banana prawns on ice in Coles supermarket

A growing interest in ocean health

In general, interest in the ocean’s health is growing, with a lot of public debate.  At the MSC our focus is specifically on sustainable wild fishing, but the more discussion around the health of ocean ecosystems, the better as it is all interconnected.

Growing markets

Australia is our most developed market in the Asia-Pacific region, but Singapore and Hong Kong are growing at a much faster rate than we had expected. In these cities, the retail and restaurant formats are much like in western markets: consumers generally want to know more about their products. In Hong Kong, hotels and restaurants have a high profile and a very engaged audience, and so offer a good lever for change.

E-commerce to engage consumers

China is very different, e-commerce is emerging as the most promising way to engage consumers there. There’s so much seafood now being sold on those platforms: you have companies running individual lobsters right to people’s homes! This offers brands a way to engage people directly, gaining recognition and building trust. Appetite for trusted brands is one reason the MSC is seeing increased interest in China. People want to know where their food comes from, to be sure it’s safe. They are consciously looking for recognised, overseas brands.

In China the industry is already familiar with MSC’s Chain of Custody as it has been processing seafood going to the US and Europe for nearly a decade, and so dealing with our Chain of Custody and noting the rising interest in traceability. Last year saw China’s first MSC certified fishery: a big point of pride for the fishery, and a sign of leadership for others to follow.

Patrick Caleo

Patrick Caleo is Director Asia-Pacific for the Marine Stewardship Council.

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