The Pacific Tuna Forum is a biannual conference held for the various stakeholders of Pacific tuna fisheries and brings together representatives from the industry, government, NGOs, and academia to discuss priority tuna topics in the region. “Achieving Optimal Economic Benefits Through Sustainable Tuna Management and Development” was the overarching theme of the Forum this year and this past September 22-23, FishWise Project Manager Elsie Tanadjaja participated in the dialogs at the 5th Regional Tuna Industry and Trade Conference in Nadi, Fiji. Priority topics discussed in the Forum included the current tuna supply in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), the declining trend in skipjack prices, recent industry developments, investment and market opportunities, management measures, and certification updates.
One important thread of discussion revolved around operational and investment challenges experienced in island nations. A large volume of tuna caught in the Pacific Ocean is fished from within the EEZ waters of less developed island nations including Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Fiji, Nauru, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea (PNG). The “distant water” fleets that fish tuna these waters come far away from Europe, U.S., China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. Many of these tuna are then processed thousand of miles away in countries such as Thailand and Philippines before entering the markets in the E.U. and U.S. This situation has led island nations to seek new ways of increasing the economic returns to their communities. One example of this are new measures put forth by PNG that will require all tuna caught within its territorial waters in 2016 to be processed in PNG facilities or the nation will no longer allow vessels to fish there. However, current tuna processing costs in PNG are higher than those of Thailand and Philippines, largely due to higher resource costs for fuel, water, labor, etc. and a lack of suitable infrastructure. Although there are no immediate solutions, representatives from the industry, government, and local communities were present and participated in these lively discussions.
It was also notable at the Forum that there is increasing interest in social and human rights issues. While yet to be a major topic of discussion - only a couple of presentations directly addressed these issues - there was a sense that these issues will come to the forefront as top priorities in the near future. As FishWise and our partners dive deeper into seafood sustainability, traceability, and human rights issues, participation in global forums such as the Pacific Tuna Forum will be an important platform to connect and network with key stakeholders and initiatives.
FishWise is very proud to announce our new producer partnership with the Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC) based in Bellingham, WA and Sitka, AK. SPC is North America’s oldest and most successful fishermen’s cooperative whose nearly 600 members use primarily hook & line techniques to target albacore, salmon, halibut, and sablefish. SPC albacore, salmon, halibut, and sablefish are all either Green ‘Best Choice’ by Seafood Watch and/or MSC certified.
Founded in 1944, the cooperative serves fishermen by getting the fairest price for their catch and giving them access to processing and packaging capabilities that they wouldn’t be able to have working on their own. As a cooperative, SPC is large enough to supply food service and retail establishments of all sizes but small enough to focus on quality and service.
SPC sells the majority of its products under two brands. Line-caught Alaska Gold Brand™ king salmon, coho salmon, and keta salmon can be found in domestic retailers and abroad. SPC Brand™ sashimi-grade albacore tuna and sablefish is well-known by fish buyers in Asia and domestic purveyors of sushi to be some of the highest quality fish available on the market.
The co-op has proven to be the best way to ensure that the fishermen’s products are delivered with quality from ocean to market without depending on the services of external parties. The co-op also serves to preserve a way of life that allows fishing families to stay together and fish using traditional methods.
SPC serves families of small boat fishermen and the health of coastal communities by combining two alternative business models—the small family fishing boat and the cooperative. Members’ boats are a classic American small business and the co-op gives these small businesses leverage to compete and market products worldwide. Additional benefits of co-op membership include access to affordable vessel insurance, cash pools to buy gear, and academic scholarships for members’ children.
With a democratically elected fishermen board of directors, the fishermen are in charge. This autonomy allows the fishermen to ensure that SPC products have the most direct path from boat to plate. SPC products stand out from others due to the fishermen’s relentless commitment to detail and quality starting on the boat all the way to delivering fish to customers.
SPC products come in a variety of formats including head-on, H & G, vac-pac fillets, and portions. Fresh product flies out of Sitka depending on weather conditions. Orders for wholesale volumes can be placed directly with the SPC sales team. It is important to note that SPC is not a trucking or shipping company and therefore the co-op works with a number of distributors to get large orders to market.
For direct consumer sales, SPC products are available on the Alaska Gold Brand™ website. The site also has a buying club and loyalty program for additional purchasing options with free shipping for the home consumer. Alaska Gold brand products can also be used by small restaurants and are a good option for small retailers with difficult distribution chains. Looking ahead, new products that will be added to the site include traditional smoked salmon and king salmon candy, which will come in 2.5 lb. & 5 lb. boxes.
On October 1, the European Commission issued the nation of Taiwan a “yellow card” as a warning that the Commission wants to see time-bound improvements in their anti-illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing governance. This European Union system issues “yellow cards” and “red cards” to nations that have not taken sufficient action to control IUU activity in their waters or by their flagged vessels. The European Commission states that this decision is based on “serious shortcomings in the fisheries legal framework, a system of sanctions that does not deter IUU fishing, and lack of effective monitoring, control and surveillance of the long-distance fleet. Furthermore, Taiwan does not systematically comply with Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) obligations.” If Taiwan fails to make anti-IUU improvements within six months, the Commission could issue them a red card, which can lead to European Union trade and economic sanctions.
The United States is the second largest buyer of Taiwanese seafood exports behind Japan, but is the largest buyer of the nation’s fish fillets. Seafood caught in the high seas such as tuna and mahi-mahi land in Taiwan before being exported into U.S. retail markets. There are currently no U.S. trade sanctions based on the European Commission’s IUU card system, but the issuance of a yellow card places international pressure on Taiwan to make anti-IUU improvements throughout its fishing fleet.
Read our blog to learn more about the current status of IUU nations that have been “carded” by the European Commission.
In his four part series The Outlaw Ocean, Ian Urbina of The New York Times dives into the complicated world of fishing on the high seas. While many governments, seafood stakeholders, and industry are pushing for sustainable fishing and fair labor laws and regulations, the race to catch valuable seafood at the cheapest price can lead to crimes that include slavery, murder, and illegal fishing. Laws and regulations are difficult to enforce in international waters, as witnesses and regulatory oversight are scarce.
Throughout this series, Urbina uncovers the atrocious human rights violations happening aboard fishing vessels within global seafood supply chains. Many of these illegally operating vessels remain invisible as they fish with little oversight and contain a crew of, largely, undocumented workers. Some workers are refugees and migrants who, in their search for work and a better life, find themselves living in inhumane conditions on fishing vessels, constantly fearing for their safety. Nowhere is this currently more prominent than in the Thai fishing fleet. Thailand is one of the world’s top seafood exporters and also has a low unemployment rate (generally less than one percent), leaving migrants to fill the shortage of around 50,000 mariners in their fishing industry. In a 2009 United Nations survey of 49 Cambodian men and boys sold to Thai fishing vessels, 29 admitted to witnessing the murder of a fellow worker by a captain or other officer.
The hundreds of high seas rules and guidelines implemented by the shipping industry and United Nations maritime agency provide little protection. Illegal fishing vessels exploit loopholes in maritime laws that allow them to bypass these rules and guidelines, and continue operating with impunity at sea. For instance, the modern flagging system allows ships to purchase the right to fly the flag of their choosing, provided they abide by the maritime laws of the associated country. This provides a guise to illegally operating ships that have purchased flags from countries with lax maritime laws such as the landlocked countries Mongolia and Bolivia, who offer their flags at a cheap price. Illegal fishing vessels can also skirt port measures and regulations through ‘transshipment’, where ‘mother’ ships bring the catch from fishing vessels to port, keeping the illegal vessel and their operations hidden at sea. When vessels are found to be fishing illegally and using forced labor, national and international agencies often lack the resources to take action and prosecute.
Major seafood buyers in the U.S. should ensure that their supply chains are free from illegal fishing practices and labor abuses by:
- Demanding 100% traceability throughout their supply chains.
- Supporting unannounced labor audits in every step of their supply chains.
- Ensuring that recruitment companies and individuals that place workers within all levels of the seafood sector exceed basic compliance with local labor laws and can provide evidence that workers are free from debt bondage and are aware of their legal rights.
- Providing clear, robust information to consumers on the origin of seafood products (such as production location and method), and the actions they have taken to guarantee products are not connected to human rights abuses, labor violations, or environmental damage.
- Requesting that fishing vessels supplying product to their supply chains possess International Maritime Organization (IMO) numbers as unique vessel identifiers (UVIs), and checking those IMO numbers against Flag State fishing authorizations and IUU blacklists.
To learn more about the issues featured in The Outlaw Oceans, listen to the NPR interview featuring FishWise’s Traceability Division Director, Mariah Boyle and The New York Times series’ journalist, Ian Urbina.
Additional information on combatting IUU fishing and IMO numbers can be found in our briefing document, Bringing Vessels out of the Shadows..
Sustainable seafood experts and stakeholders from over 23 countries recently gathered at the 2015 World Seafood Congress in Grimsby, UK to discuss developments in the fishing industry. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Upskilling for a Sustainable Future’ and brought together international attendees from the seafood industry, NGOs, academia, and government to explore various issues in seafood trade, innovation, and sustainability.
One featured topic at the Congress was seafood ethics, including the social challenges that exist in our seafood supply chains. FishWise’s Traceability Division Director Mariah Boyle addressed the urgent issue of human rights abuses in the fishing industry with a presentation on protecting labor rights. Mariah highlighted the actions companies can take to reduce the risk of sourcing products associated with these abuses:
• Increase transparency in their supply chains
• Maintain direct communication regarding concerns of labor violations with their vendors
• Provide clear information about their products’ origins and the actions taken to guarantee products are not connected to human rights abuses, labor violations, or environmental damage with their customers.
Consumers have become more aware of these issues from recent prominent media coverage and have pushed for industry action through lawsuits against major corporations Costco and Nestlé, whose seafood products have been linked to forced labor. As daunting as the issues of human rights abuses seem, they are being addressed through efforts in the global fishing industry and progress is possible. In the United States, one positive step is the implementation of the CA Supply Chain Transparency Act, which requires large companies operating in California (with gross worldwide sales of over $100 million) to disclose their efforts to eliminate forced human labor and trafficking in their supply chains. The launch of the world’s first Fair Trade USA certified wild capture fishery is another step forward as the certification includes both social and environmental criteria.
One prominent attendee of the event was Benjamin Smith, Senior Officer for Corporate Social Responsibility at International Labour Organization (ILO), who spoke about ILO’s work in Thailand on the Good Labour Practices (GLP) Program. Other expert presenters on the topic of seafood ethics included Libby Woodhatch from Seafish, speaking on their new Responsible Fishing Scheme, independent ethics consultant Roger Plant, who presented on a new report on ethical issues impacting UK seafood supply chains, and the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland. Roger concluded with the finding that the seafood industry needs a code of conduct on social responsibility.
2015 World Seafood Congress Group Picture - Photo Credit: Intrafish.