Major seafood firms unite to pledge ocean stewardship

Nine major seafood companies, with a combined annual revenue of around £23bn, have committed to establish sustainable supply chains through the prevention of prohibited activities such as overfishing and slave labour.

The commitment was made in New York last week at the UN Ocean Conference, which gave focus to the implementation of Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), centering around the conservation of oceans, seas and marine resources.

According to the UN, around 20% of fish caught are the product of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. To combat the issue, the coalition has made several key pledges, including a target to wipe out the illegal sourcing of fish, and a new code of conduct to cease worker exploitation in operations.

Participants of the deal include the two largest fishing businesses by revenue, Maruha Nichiro and Nippon Suisan Kaisha, in addition to the two biggest farmed salmon companies and two of the biggest tuna specialists. It marks the first time that companies from Asia, Europe and the US have partnered to signal the end of unsustainable marine activities.

Everybody’s Business

In the backdrop of the UN Conference, leaders from corporations, as well as tech and manufacturing innovators met last week to discuss the case for businesses to safeguard the global ocean. Convened by Virgin founder Richard Branson, the Everybody’s Business meeting focussed on how to change business models to help tackle ocean challenges such as marine plastics pollution and carbon emissions.

Commenting on the discussion, Branson said: “I am proud that, across the globe, companies, entrepreneurs and inventors are stepping up to address the challenges facing the ocean.

“More organisations are realising what is good for the ocean is good for business. All business leaders have a responsibility to use the strength of their brands to do something unpredictable that will disrupt the space, engage the public, and ultimately help reverse the damage being done to our oceans.“

The Ocean Conference concluded last Friday (9 June) with 193 UN Member States unanimously agreeing a set of measures to address the decline of the ocean’s health. There were new commitments to protect and manage fisheries, while many countries announced steps to reduce or eliminate various single use plastics which ultimately find their way to the ocean.

“The Ocean Conference has changed our relationship with the ocean,” said UN General Assembly president Peter Thomson. “Henceforth none can say they were not aware of the harm humanity has done to the ocean’s health. We are now working around the world to restore a relationship of balance and respect towards the ocean.”

Sea change

Research suggests that the overwhelming majority of seafood products in UK supermarkets are now responsibly sourced and labelled consistently in line with industry guideline. The volume of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified catch increased by a further 6% last year, a report from the non-profit revealed in October.

Marine pollution remains a major concern however, with an estimated eight million metric tonnes of plastic entering the oceans each year. If current pollution trends continue, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050.

Brands are increasingly highlighting a willingness to tackled plastic waste. Earlier this year Unilever made a bold new pledge to ensure that 100% of its plastic packaging is fully re-usable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Meanwhile, global sportswear company Adidas looks set to push around 7,000 pairs of trainers made from 95% ocean plastic into the market

The Ellen MacArthur last month launched a $2m innovation prize, calling on companies to create new ways of designing packaging that limits the amount of plastic polluting the oceans.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie