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SeaWeb Seafood Summit 2019: The push, pull and funding in the fight for sustainability

IntraFish is back in Bangkok reporting live on all the news and views from the world of seafood.

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--Rachel Mutter

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Thursday June 13, 2.31pm ICT

SeaWeb Seafood Summit on hold for now

The SeaWeb Seafood Summit, which has been running for the past 15 years, will not be held in 2020, Diversified Communications announced.

“We want to rethink the event, assess new ways to engage with stakeholders, and see where we’re going from here,” Liz Plizga, group vice president at Diversified Communications, told IntraFish. Read more...

--Lola Navarro

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Thursday June 13, 2.31pm ICT

Starting with the fishermen

For Rawee Viriyatum, fishery improvement project (FIP) coordinator on The Sustainable Fishery Roundtable, the biggest obstacle the industry faces is how to explain the definition of overfishing to fishers.

It is a theme picked up by Libby Woodhatch, chair of IFFO RS, when IntraFish caught up with her after the panel, who recounted her time at Seafood Scotland and the difference it made to fishermen she worked with to show them the supply chain and where their product ended up, on supermarket shelves.

"Fishermen think they catch fish, not food."

--Rachel Mutter

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Thursday June 13, 2.15pm ICT

People, people and more people

"Paper is a large part of my world," said Fisheries Advisor Francisco Blaha in a panel on the data-driven future of seafood. "[It] is what gets stuck in between transactions at different points of the value chain.”

But no matter how much data and information there is, verifying it, translating it and implementing it is the most important part of the work.

"How can you regulate what you don’t understand?" asked Blaha.

"Regulators don’t create data, they verify data... so we can change paper for apps or whatever, but the key here is people. We need people."

And those people need to come not just from government and NGOs, but also the business community. "We need global commitment because any flow will take the path of least resistance. We need business support for that, not just government."

-- Rachel Mutter

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Wednesday June 12, 6.25pm ICT

--Rachel Mutter

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Wednesday June 12, 5.42pm ICT

Thai Union CFO: Banks must offer better deals

Why are seafood companies not using more "blue bonds" to finance their marine sustainability projects?

This type of bond -- a subset of green, or environmental bonds -- helps entities raise capital for marine ecosystems sustainability projects. They have been around for some time, but despite an increasing demand, blue investment still lags behind renewable energy, clean transport, and energy transparency.

“If a blue loan is cheaper than a non-blue loan, I will always go for the blue loan,. Unfortunately I've never had a bank come to me and offer me a blue loan that's cheaper than a normal one,” said Joerg Ayrle, CFO of Thai Union.

Although sustainable investment should be considered low risk, proving that the money is invested and deployed in sustainability projects is a key risk impacting the cost of funding.

“No financial institution has come forward and given me a workable solution to prove that the money issued on a bond is worth investing in.”

--Lola Navarro

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Wednesday June 12, 1.30pm ICT

Everything is not necessarily fine

"If I leave you with nothing else today it is that when you hear the word traceability it has nothing to do with sustainability," said Bradley Soule, chief fisheries analyst at OceanMind.

Soule said that despite the tendency for the sector to use the word "traceability" to say everything is fine, yet "it has no inherent value to the information moving within that system."

He also found the same conflict in the reliance on government checks. "We assume in many parts of the world that this-cat and-mouse game will always find all the violations, and if nothing is found then everything is fine.

"Let me tell you that as an ex-government inspector, I was had... all the time."

-- Rachel Mutter

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Wednesday June 12, 12.18pm ICT

Big goals for bigeye

Pacifical, the private-public tuna market development tool set up by Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) countries, aims to make the bigeye catch sustainable in PNA waters following its success with skipjack and yellowfin tuna.

Pacifical deals with the marketing side of the joint venture, enabling businesses throughout the world to access MSC-certified, free-schooling skipjack, and yellowfin from PNA fisheries.

Due to the complexities of the supply chain and fishing gear, Pacifical decided to focus on FDA-free, and free-schooling skipjack fisheries, and then expanded to yellowfin.

Now, with all its stocks not overfished and at no risk of overfishing, it is seeking similar results with bigeye tuna stocks.

“FADs account for 6.8 percent of the bigeye tuna catch, this is not sustainable, there is high bycatch of undersized fish, and unwanted species,” said Henk Brus, CEO of Pacifical.

“Our method, free-school fishing, allows for minimal bycatch.”

Currently, Pacifical is fully compliant with blockchain technology throughout it supply chain, it has its system and procedures in place.

"We've managed to improve stocks by stimulating more FDA-free, free school fishing and incentivizing our fishermen," said Brus.

“Now want to see if we can make bigeye tuna sustainable.”

--Lola Navarro

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Wednesday June 12, 12.12pm ICT

'One village at a time'

Gerry Knecht, CEO at Bali Seafood International (BSI) is looking for NGO and government input for its model of community investment to improve the fisheries it sources from in Indonesia, but it is an approach that requires sensitivity and carefully placed footing.

"In our world it is people first, conservation second," said Knecht. Dealing with small-boat fisheries, the set of rules is entirely different from the deepwater fisheries, where technology and regulation has played a key role in sustainability progress.

"In our world there is no tech. There is an engine, some rice and some hooks, an insulated box and some ice," said Knecht.

"There is no enforcement or political will, generally speaking, to regulate these people. They are also very suspicious of regulations for very good reason."

What BSI does, therefore, is to invest in the fishing communities by investing in water, electricity, gear shops, factories, ice supply and access to finance.

At this level, in many countries, we're talking about the bottom rung of the economic ladder. [Incentives] have to be felt immediately. There is not a lot of long term vision of people who have to feed their families."

--Rachel Mutter

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Wednesday June 12, 11.55am ICT

Do It Yourself

There are big advantages in moving towards less one-to-one interaction with the NGO community in the implementation of seafood sustainability programs, said Richard Boot, CEO of FishChoice, a platform helping businesses find their own seafood sustainability assessments.

For starters, companies are more involved and aware of improvements and planning. Another benefit is that it is a flexible approach that adjusts to specific needs and opportunities.

“The do it yourself (DIY) approach is a multi-based system that perhaps is not good for all, but as long as it works for enough people I think it’s good enough,” Boot said.

"Developing your own seafood sustainability program can be done using no tools, one tool, or many tools, depending on what you want to achieve and how.”

--Lola Navarro

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Wednesday June 12, 11.10am ICT

Who should fund sustainability?

The complexity and diversity of supply chains and stakeholder mechanisms in the seafood industry is a challenge to the costs of sustainability, and were highlighted in an interesting workshop this morning on the issue.

"We need to do a better job of identifying who is paying for what and the responsibility of each party," said Helen Packer, science and sustainability coordinator, fishing & living at Anova Food USA, summarizing the discussions in her workshop group.

She highlighted the shortermism of funding for things such as fishery improvement projects (FIPs). "Something needs to be done to define what the costs are and the individual responsibilities of stakeholders. We believe it is the role of all: governments, philanthropies, companies and NGOs."

--Rachel Mutter

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Wednesday June 12, 10.30am ICT

Upfront issues

Poor communication, little involvement from governments, stakeholders, and the industry, technical issues in implementing projects, and lack of funding are just some of the obstacles when succeeding in the implementation and durability of Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs).

The complexities lie in the fragmentation of the global supply chain, but it is clear that lack of upfront fundraising, budgeting, and planning is a common problem for those pushing for durable change through FIPs.

“It is really complicated, there is a lot of ways of thinking about funding,” said Lucy Holmes, senior program manager at WWF US. “I personally don’t think we’re doing a great job on this.”

The constraints in scaling up the projects, and unplanned investments that have to be dealt with along the way often mean that assigned funds for important developments get diverted, compromising the performance of the FIP.

Stakeholders are looking at different ways of financing projects and ensuring the durability of the improvements, and reducing the number of drop-outs from FIPs.

--Lola Navarro

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Wednesday June 12, 09.37am ICT

It's all about the base

Why are we selling something as a commodity when everyone thinks of it as something special? This was the question posed by Thomas Kraft, managing director at Norpac Fisheries Export at this morning's workshop on paying for social and environmental sustainability. Kraft likened the seafood sector to the old days of the California wine industry, where wine was white or red and not a lot of differentiation was employed. "It was a beverage," said Kraft, saying that now, value has been hugely improved by differentiation and branding.

His presentation, focused on improvement of the bottom line in the sector, also laid out ways to increase value and reduce cost. "Your customers want more for less. How are you going to do that?"

Reducing the length of the supply chain was one area of improvement, as well as tight inventory control and improving yield.

"Our bottom line is razor thin," said Kraft. "If I can improve my yield by just 1 percent I can probably improve my bottom line by probably around 30 percent."

"You have to fatten the bottom line," said Kraft who laid out key factors that can play a role: correcting under fulfillment; timely tracking of productivity; fine tuning receiving and inventory; tracking downgrades; proper costing control margins; improving revenue; and controlling costs.

"We need to be pushed by NGOs, but at the end of the day the sustainability battle is ours and we need to do it efficiently and cost effectively."

--Rachel Mutter

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Preventing labor violations

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Tuesday June 11, 6pm ICT

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

The progress that Thailand has made over the past year in tackling slavery and human rights violations at sea has been “dramatic,” Steve Trent, co-founder and executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, told IntraFish.

“I’ve never seen a government go so far, so deep into these matters,” he said.

That’s not to say the Thai seafood supply chain is slavery-free, and they have “a long way to go” to achieve this.

“But we have to start somewhere, it’s not perfect, but we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

--Lola Navarro

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Tuesday June 11, 5.55pm ICT

Thai Union CFO on the ethical return on investment

"Successful companies are good companies. Only if you have an ethical foundation can you be a good businessman," said Thai Union CFO Joerg Ayrle at this afternoon's closing speech.

Ayrle said that value-creating companies "in this time and age" are enterprises that have fully engaged a sustainability vision. "They have the most market value over the last 10 years."

He went on to describe the "huge transformation" Thai Union has undergone in terms of transparency and sustainability, saying that as CFO he is often asked what the financial return is.

"The question assumes that everything the company does must lead to a financial return... there are other types of return you can have," said Ayrle.

He said that contributing to society, engagement of employees and the preservation of human rights are among those returns.

"That part of return, the ethical return, it is an equal part in some areas and more important in others [than the financial return]."

--Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 5.28 pm ICT

2019 Seafood Champion Awards announced

The four winners of the Seafood Champion Awards are Seafood Legacy CEO Wakao Hanaoka for leadership, OceanMind for innovation, Thai Union’s Darian McBain for the vision category and fisheries inspector Francisco Blaha for the advocacy category.

fd18430de6270470ed84de36fd34076d Seafood Champion nominees, Seaweb 2019 Photo: Rachel Mutter / IntraFish

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Tuesday June 11, 5.15 pm ICT

--Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 4.31pm ICT

The contentious issue of certifications

The recurring argument of consolidation of seafood certifications came up again this afternoon when Fairtrade US CEO Paul Rice said that in the current environment he thought the more information available to the seafood consumer, the better, and that right now the existence of a large number of certifications was not a huge problem in the sector. Thai Fisheries Department Director General Adisorn Promthep hit back highlighting the great cost of all these certifications. "Do you big buyers want poor seafood producers to go bankrupt?" he asked pointedly.

--Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 3.21pm ICT

EJF insight drives home need for continued change

As much as one in every three fish caught is done so illegally, according to Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) figures. It also found when interviewing fishers in Thailand before changes were implemented, that more than 50 percent had witnessed the murder of a fellow crew member. These are just some of the shocking revelations made by an EJF video shown to the audience of NGOs, seafood companies and government this afternoon.

--Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 3.15pm ICT

Harder than you'd think

The complexity of Thai fisheries improvements operations became evident when Adisorn Promthep, director general of the Thai Department of Fisheries discussed some of the changes that have happened in the sector in the last few years in an effort to rid the sector of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries.

With determination to evade rules, some vessel owners will go to great lengths to avoid monitoring and training Thai fishery inspection officer to have a "sharp mind" is a large part of the battle. In support of the work done by the Thai government on the issue, Environmental Justice Foundation Executive Director Steve Trent said: "I am totally clear that if other countries in the region were making the same changes then Thailand would have the platform it needs to eradicate IUU in the sector."

-- Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 3.06pm ICT

A message of hope from Thai Union

"What I urge all of you today is that we work together as business, governments and civil society to reach that end goal of transparency and sustainable seafood," said Thai Union's Darian McBain who spoke about the hope she has that goals, while not yet reached, are achievable, with much change in the Thai seafood industry and many lessons being learned along the way.

--Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 3.01pm ICT

Trade unions call on seafood industry to support labor standards

International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) urged the seafood industry today to adopt a labor rights-based approach.

Companies should recognize independent trade unions representing the industry’s workforce and negotiate a binding contract with those workers covering wages, benefits and working conditions, the two unions said in a joint statement.

Some of the suggested standards include ratifying several International Labor Organization conventions in all seafood-producing countries to protect workers’ rights, promote better working conditions for fishers and eliminate forced labor.

The two unions called on various NGOs to continue developing international standards to guide governments on eliminating human rights abuses.

--IntraFish Media

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Tuesday June 11, 2.55pm ICT

Sustainability 'very far' from being a driving factor in Japan

Japan per capita seafood consumption continues to fall year-on-year, although it is still way above the global average.

That’s why the objective of the Tokyo Seafood Sustainability Symposium is not to curve this trend, but to ensure that the seafood consumed in the country is sustainable.

The group, established in 2017, had over 600 members in 2018, of which 75 percent were local producers.

“There is now more awareness about seafood sustainability than before, but it is far away from being a factor that drives purchase decision-making,” said Wakao Hanaoka, CEO of Seafood Legacy.

The idea of the symposium is that retailers only offer sustainable seafood, so that consumers don’t have to be the ones bearing this responsibility.

“Consumers already have enough choices to make,” he said.

-- Lola Navarro

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Tuesday June 11, 2.42pm ICT

ASC, MSC not better, just more visible

What makes a discounter such as Aean Topvalu set the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as its standards of reference?

Mainly, visibility. The group has no restrictions when it comes to selling certified seafood products, and in fact relies on tools such as the Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative (GSSI) as a sustainability benchmark.

However, it has set the goal that all its retail stores must source seafood from ASC and MSC chain of custody certified sources by 2020. Why? Because of the visibility and the reach of the stamps.

It is easier to communicate what these standards stand for to the consumers, Wakao Hanaoka, CEO of Seafood Legacy, said Tuesday speaking on behalf of Aeon Topvalu GM of merchandising and food division Nobukazu Furuya.

-- Lola Navarro

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Tuesday June 11, 12.46pm ICT

The Asian cultural challenge of ambitious commitment

There are cultural issues to be kept in mind when asking Asian companies to commit to sustainability targets. Unless a company can 100 percent achieve a target, then it will be reticent to sign up. "Even 90 percent is not good enough," said Janice Lao, director of group corporate responsibility & sustainability at The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, that includes The Peninsula. Wakao Hanaoka, CEO at Seafood Legacy agreed saying there was cultural shame attached to not 100 percent achieving goals you commit to, however ambitious.

--Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 12.01pm ICT

The wisdom of producers

Paul Rice, founder and CEO of Fair Trade USA told an insightful story of a pole and line fishery he works with in Asia.

The fishers had used their price premium to invest in safety, in community schools and health and then chose to use further proceeds to buy re-usable lunch boxes for themselves to reduce their single use plastic waste, which was previously thrown overboard after consumption.

“These are people who earn $10 a day," said Rice. "How can they afford to have a social conscience on ocean plastic?!” But they do, said Rice, saying that the wisdom and awareness of suppliers often comes as a surprise to buyers, but must be further tapped into to secure a sustainable supply chain.

--Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 10.58am ICT

What's on the mind of a Walmart buyer?

"Assurity of supply that is safe and affordable is top of my mind every day," said Walmart Senior Buying Manager Trevyr Lester on this morning's panel.

To push sustainability in the world, first must be a focus on what you can directly influence, she said, saying that in the short term, "understanding your own supply chain and influencing that," is a first step.

Then you can look at "what you can do to incentivize the rest of it", ie how to share value across the global supply chain as well.

"Then you can at least start a plan. Otherwise it will never be achieved. But it will take a lot of heavy lifting," said Lester.

--Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 10.52am ICT

Business or government? Who should take responsibility?

A representative from the Thai department of fisheries threw the ball back to the business community on the responsibility of sustainability, posing a question to this morning's panel.

"Government can put in place regulations etc, but if the market is still there, then it will be supplied," he said, referencing a seeming willingness from western buyers to purchase cheap shrimp without questioning the sustainability implications of these prices.

"I think it's a bit of a carrot and stick situation," responded Richard Welford, chairman of CSR Asia.

Governments can tell companies what to do, but I think companies realizing the value proposition of sustainability is also going to drive change, he said.

-- Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 10.48am ICT

Do NGOs have the world's biggest markets in mind?

The Asian market adds complexity to the challenges of sustainability. While there is a price premium for organic certified product, for other sustainability certifications on things like palm oil and fish, it basically barely exists, Richard Welford, chairman of CSR Asia, said when talking about sustainability on this morning's panel.

That the fish is live is more important to consumers in most parts of Asia, he said. “There are different complexities you have to realize here.”

--Rachel Mutter

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Tuesday June 11, 10.03am ICT

Will consumers make sustainable seafood profitable?

A growing collective conscious about sustainable sources is here to stay, and might just be creating an immense market opportunity to enable businesses to not just be profitable while socially and environmentally sustainable, but to actually being rewarded for it.

Market prices don’t always enable sustainable livelihoods, but with growing consumer engagement the shift is inevitable, said Paul Rice, founder and CEO of Fair Trade USA.

In 2018, 67 percent of Americans prioritized healthy or socially conscious food choices, 24 percent of seafood consumers put “a lot of effort” into selecting sustainable options, and sales of socially responsible and sustainable products grew three times more over the year in US grocery stores than other categories.

Fair Trade USA, a nonprofit organization focused on the social side of sustainability, is seeing its growth enabled by consumers’ purchasing decisions luring and rewarding sustainable companies.

--Lola Navarro

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Tuesday June 11, 9.30am ICT

Tariffs 'upending' trade flow

The China-US trade war has “upended” tradeflow and pricing strategy in the soybean sector, Lukas Manomaitis, Bangkok-based technical director for the aquaculture program at the US Soybean Export Council told IntraFish.

While there used to be a simple transaction of shipping the soybean harvest of the United States, Argentina and Brazil straight to China after the summer harvest, now there are multiple opportunities for new markets, “opportunities that will actually be executed,” said Manomaitis.

-- Rachel Mutter

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Monday, June 10, 6.52pm ICT

A duty to act

Darian McBain, global director, corporate affairs and sustainability with Thai Union, told IntraFish at the first day of the Seafood Seaweb Summit that big companies have the responsibility to lead due to their relevance and presence as an international player, but that it is important that good governance is applied throughout the supply chain. Read more...

--Lola Navarro

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Monday, June 10, 12.00pm ICT

Welcome to Bangkok, where seafood slavery is first on the docket

This year's SeaWeb Seafood Summit is in Thailand, one of the largest seafood producers in the world, whose seafood supply chain was found to be flooded with permanent forced labor and slavery practices in 2015 by the Associated Press Pulitzer-winning investigation “Seafood from slaves.”

Over the next four days, speakers will discuss labor, fishing, regulations, sustainability, and fair trade across global seafood supply chains in a country that continues to be in the spotlight over these issues.

In 2015, the US Trafficking in Persons report placed Thailand on "Tier 3," meaning the country’s government did not comply with minimum fair labor requirements. Since then, Thailand was upgraded to "Tier 2 Watchlist" in 2016, and to "Tier 2" in 2018.

A study conducted in 2018 across 300 fishing vessels showed that 65 percent of workers -- mainly migrants from neighboring countries Myanmar and Cambodia -- had a passport or some form of identity, up from only 15 percent in 2015.

However, other forms of irregular labor practices such as overworking, lack of basic medicines or access to medical care, and lack of information about working rights continued to be persistent in the supply chain.

In January this year, the European Union lifted a yellow card issued in 2015 against Thailand for its lack of action against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, stirring up controversy across the seafood world.

Is Thailand enforcing change throughout its seafood supply chain? How effective have these warnings by major importers been?

Keep checking back for IntraFish’s live updates from the conference floor.

-- Lola Navarro

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