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Lessons learned from the Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference

Created on Thursday, 30 October 2014

By: Kathleen Mullen-Ley

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a retail panel discussion at the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s (GAA) annual Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

This year’s overarching theme was ‘Celebrating Leadership’ in acknowledgement of the challenges of responsible aquaculture and the need for collaboration to overcome those challenges. Being relatively new to field of responsible aquaculture, I took full advantage of the opportunity to learn from the industry experts, retailer and foodservice seafood buyers, investors, and academic researchers in attendance.

In my opinion, there are four main takeaways from the conference:

1. Early mortality syndrome (EMS) in farmed shrimp is still a major problem and seafood buyers should diversify their sources to minimize risk. 

2. Zone management of farm clusters is a potential solution to the looming dilemma of how to develop the aquaculture industry responsibly.

3. Responsible feed production will require a shift from wild fish protein to alternative protein sources.

4. There is widespread acknowledgement that human rights abuses in the aquaculture industry are real and need to be addressed but there is uncertainty around how. 

The first two takeaways are closely linked. Zone management was touted as an effective solution to fight EMS and prevent future aquaculture epidemics. Showing strong support for this view, the GAA announced the development of a fifth star in the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification scheme for zone management. GAA was vague on the details of the standard, but seemed confident that it will be able to address a wide range of aquaculture challenges including disease management and engaging small-scale farmers.   

The topic of responsible feed was the most divisive. Alternatives to wild fish protein are severely lacking. Soybeans, rendered animal products, and insects were discussed as alternatives, but none struck me as being both viable and responsible in the short term. The path forward appears to be a two-pronged approach of improving the reduction fisheries involved in fishmeal and fish oil production through improvement projects and continuing to research and develop alternatives. 

The issue of human rights was clearly the newest and the most uncomfortable for conference attendees to discuss. Everyone passionately agreed that something must be done, but what and how? Fortunately, FishWise has been tracking the issue of human rights abuses in seafood supply chains for some time now and so I was able to make a valuable contribution to this area of discussion during the retail panel. 

The retail panels were composed of representatives from the NGO community, major retailers, and seafood companies to give a breadth of views and experience. Despite having different backgrounds, the panel members were mostly in agreement on the challenges facing responsible aquaculture and the need for collaboration to overcome those challenges. On my retail panel, the most interesting part of the discussion was around how the recent revelations human rights abuses in seafood supply chains has changed how we think about sustainability. The uncomfortable truth is that we may have been calling some seafood ‘responsibly sourced’ despite being associated with egregious human rights abuses. Now that another (yes, this issue has been around for a while) clear link has been made between seafood production and social welfare, the definition of seafood sustainability can no longer be restricted to environmental standards. Figuring out how to address both environmental and social considerations in seafood production and improve traceability so sustainability claims can be verified is our revised challenge moving forward.

Should be easy, right?     

Participating in a retail panel discussion at the GOAL conference in Vietnam was a fantastic experience. The GAA is already encouraging increased attendance by NGOs and retailers at the 2015 conference in Vancouver, so if you’re interested in attending next year, you already have a seat at the table. 

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