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Seafood is at a crosscurrent: The SDGs can help

by Nick Warelis This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | 21 December 2016

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The seafood industry is facing a pivotal moment in time, with marine fish stocks declining due to overfishing and aquaculture emerging as the most dominant form of seafood production. With instances of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing growing worldwide, the seafood industry is in the midst of social and environmental turmoil.


The overextension of fish stocks has contributed to the rise of IUU cases, with over 30% of all global catches being linked to IUU fishing, with a rise in the number of fishing vessels being found in territorial waters across the Asia-PacificSouth America and Africa.


Image result for expansion of IUU globally

*Courtesy of Greenfishbluefish


Overfishing is considered to be the second largest global threat to the oceans after climate change and besides the ecological consequences that this creates, the exploitation of fish stocks has the potential to impact millions of people, their livelihoods and jeopardise food supplies.

For the largest seafood markets in ASEAN - Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines - IUU and the exploitation of marine catch has put thousands of rural, coastal communities at risk of collapse.

ASEAN countries in particular are beginning to experience the repercussions of these risks. Rising demand is overextending supply and although aquaculture offers opportunities for technological advancements, supply chain management and closer monitoring of working conditions, aquaculture has its own set of sustainability issues such as land use rights, disease control and feed conversion.


In aquaculture, the source of feed is being linked to bycatch of IUU vessels and depending on the specie and the region, farmed fish can either have a favourable feed conversion ratio, 1.2:1 for salmon or not, from 10:1 to 20:1 for Bluefin tuna.


Image result for feed conversion in aquaculture

*Courtesy of the BioMar Group


Another challenge is the impact of antibiotics in disease control. For small scale and larger scale producers, extensive use of antibiotics can result in resistance, pollution and food safety issues that impact the value of the yield or eliminate it altogether.


Moving against the current:

The challenges for both marine catch and aquaculture appear daunting, however the industry needs to think carefully about strategies that will address key social and environmental concerns and promote sustainable development. This will require collaborative efforts from all stakeholders, beyond the public sector and involve the private sector and civil society, as they become more influential in the governance of marine and inland aquatic resources.

Platforms for dialogue need to be inclusive and fair to ensure that the strategies that promote sustainable management and development progress in parallel. The private sector needs to ensure its operations support rural livelihoods and focus on alleviating poverty by investing in creating new sources of income and market opportunities for communities.


Although the seafood industry has a number of challenges, the industry is also in a unique position. The private sector has the influence and resources to create change and to address some of the world’s most urgent developmental challenges. Since the unveiling of the Sustainable Development Goals, CSR Asia has been an advocate for the private sector to commit to the goals that are the most relevant to a company’s operations. 
In seafood, each company can address more than one of the SDGs simply by improving production, promoting engagement with communities, focusing on sustainability and providing equal opportunities for farmers and workers.


Improvements in marine catch and aquaculture contribute to SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 14 (life below water) and in aquaculture, SDG 15 (life on land). In addition to these, companies that engage with local communities in a socially just manner and promote the inclusion of both genders with fair and prior consent, can help achieve SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) as well as SDG 5 (gender equality).

The SDGs provide companies with a guideline towards long-term operational goals and in reducing the severity of environmental and social challenges. In an inherently complex industry, simplicity is highly valued and for companies, commitment to change is critical in moving forward. The Sustainable Development Goals can provide a starting point to address the pivotal challenges that the sector faces, to stimulate learning and accelerate uptake of best practice.