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Seafood Leaders Create Breakthrough in Ocean Stewardship

Lucy Towers
15 December 2016, at 12:00am

THAILAND - Eight of the worlds largest seafood companies, including Thai Union Group PCL, have issued a 10-point statement committing to action on ocean stewardship following the first keystone dialogue between scientists and business leaders.

Through the keystone dialogues—a new approach to engage major international businesses in global sustainability challenges—companies have committed to improving transparency and traceability, and reducing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in their supply chains.

Antibiotic use in aquaculture, greenhouse gas emissions and plastic pollution will also be prioritized. And the businesses commit to eliminating any products in their supply chains that may have been obtained through modern slavery, including forced, bonded and child labour.

The statement says signatories “represent a global force, not only in the operation of the seafood industry, but also in contributing to a resilient planet.”

It was signed by two of the largest tuna companies in the world (Thai Union and Dongwon Industries), two of the largest companies by revenues (Maruha Nichiro Corporation and Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd), the two largest salmon farmers (Marine Harvest ASA and Cermaq—subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation) and the two largest aquafeeds companies (Skretting—subsidiary of Nutreco, and Cargill Aqua Nutrition).

To implement the commitments, the companies will create a new initiative—Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship—that will, for the first time, connect wild capture fisheries to aquaculture businesses, connect European and North American companies to Asian companies and connect the global seafood business to science.

The inaugural dialogue, initiated by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, took place 11-13 November at the Soneva Fushi Resort on the Maldives under the patronage of HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden—Advocate for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The initiative was a unique meeting between CEOs, senior leadership of major seafood companies, leading scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and advisors, including the Honorable Dr Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University and U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean—U.S. State Department, Mr Volker Kuntzsch, CEO of Sanford Ltd., Mr Rupert Howes, CEO of Marine Stewardship Council, and Ambassador Magnus Robach, Swedish Ambassador to Japan.

The dialogue is the first between scientists and “keystone actors”, a term coined in 2015 by Carl Folke and Henrik Österblom, science directors at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Keystone species play a disproportionate role in ecosystems. Increasingly, large transnational corporations now play this role, for example, in the ocean and in rainforests.

Österblom led research identifying the keystone actors in the world’s oceans. The team identified 13 transnational corporations controlling 11-16% of wild marine catch and up to 40% of the largest and most valuable fish stocks.

“We invited the leaders of these companies to a dialogue to build trust and develop a common understanding about the state of the ocean,” said Österblom. “We were delighted so many companies accepted our offer. This shows they are aware of the urgency of the situation and willing to engage in these issues.”

“As one of the world’s leading seafood companies, Thai Union Group is committed to reform in the fishing industry,” said Thiraphong Chansiri, Thai Union’s CEO. “We believe the entire seafood industry needs to work together on sustainable and evidence-based solutions. This dialogue between scientists and the leaders within our industry represents an important part of that effort.”

The dialogue will now be followed up with additional meetings and dialogue between science and business. A next meeting is already scheduled for next year, where more concrete joint actions will be identified.