In April, NOAA Fisheries released its 2014 report on the Status of U.S. Fisheries to Congress. The number of stocks listed as subject to overfishing or overfished continues to decline and is at an all-time low. The progress made in 2014 shows that the approach to determine stock status and manage for sustainability is working. According to the report, only 8% of the federally managed 469 fish stocks are on the overfishing list and only 16% of stocks are on the overfished list. Additionally, the number of rebuilt fish stocks has increased to 37 since 2000 (three more rebuilt stocks than the 2013 report).
A stock that is subject to overfishing has an annual catch rate that is too high and can be a direct result of fishing activities. A stock that is overfished has a population size that is too low and can be a result of many factors, including overfishing, habitat degradation, pollution, climate change, and disease. A rebuilt stock is one that was previously overfished and that has increased in abundance to the target population size that supports its maximum sustainable yield.
This report comes as great news for consumers, fishermen, and fishing communities as they can feel confident that the fish they are harvesting, processing, and eating are from well-managed stocks. For more information on the newly rebuilt stocks, please see NOAA’s Status of Stocks 2014 video.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), first passed in 1976, is the primary law governing marine fisheries in U.S. federal waters. It provides a strong science-based sustainable fishery management approach to work to end overfishing and rebuild stocks. Continual improvements in science-based stock assessments have facilitated the rebuilding of U.S. fisheries and have enabled the Unites States to become the world leader in sustainable fisheries management.
FishWise had the great fortune of being invited to participate in Surf Market’s 3rd Annual Sustainable Seafood Festival in Gualala, located in Northern California’s Mendocino County. This hidden gem is just north of San Francisco on scenic Highway 1 and is home to migrating whales, jazz festivals, and on a clear day, the illusive ‘green flash sunset’.
The Sustainable Seafood Festival engages and educates the local community about sustainable seafood options. FishWise project managers Ethan Lucas, Marc de Giere, and FishWise intern Meg Songer spendt the afternoon fielding questions regarding sustainable seafood, helping children to create their own FishWise hats and coloring pages and inviting passers by to play FishWise’s educationally-themed beanbag toss game. Cooking demonstrations on how to prepare sustainably caught or harvested seafood items were also present at the festival. A fantastic time was had by all and we are eagerly anticipating the next collaboration with Surf Market.
Since 2006, Surf Market has partnered with FishWise to provide educational materials and sustainable seafood options to their customers. This partnership has allowed Surf Market to strengthen its commitment to sustainability and ocean conservation.
The FishWise retail program translates the best available fishery, aquaculture, and health science into a comprehensive program that results in improved sourcing, customer service, and sales. Member retailers communicate publicly their commitment to sustainability and transparency, and improve their product mix over time. They are often at the forefront of new product offerings and consumer education techniques, and demonstrate to larger and more conventional businesses that sustainable seafood makes good business sense.
After assessing Thailand’s fisheries governance, control and sanctioning system since 2011, the European Commission (EC) has issued the Thai government a formal warning, or “yellow card”, for failing to take sufficient measures to fight illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing.
Thailand now joins the following countries on the EC’s list of yellow-carded countries:
- Papua New Guinea
- Solomon Islands
- Saint Kitts & Nevis
- Saint Vincent & Grenadines
Now that Thailand has received a yellow card, the EC will work with Thai authorities to develop a time-bound action plan that will address key deficiencies with Thailand’s management of its fisheries and fleets. Thailand will have 6 months to implement the corrective measures outlined in the action plan. If the EC decides that Thailand has made insufficient improvements after 6 months, Thailand could receive more serious sanctions and be demoted to a “red card” status, which could include a European Union (EU) ban on all Thai fishery products.
The EC’s recent announcement comes shortly after recent media coverage of Thailand’s systemic human rights abuses in its seafood sector. Last month, the Associated Press (AP) released a story and video that exposed how seafood was linked to forced labor, human trafficking, and other abuses occurring on Thai vessels in Indonesia. This tainted seafood can enter the supply chains of major U.S. grocery stores, as the U.S. imports many Thai seafood products. These findings are consistent with the human rights abuses documented on Thai vessels in a story and video released by The Guardian in June 2014.
We hope that by receiving a formal warning, Thailand will work with the EC to implement long-lasting and credible reforms that result in a more resilient, responsible Thai fishing industry. The EC’s approach to incentivizing countries to address and eliminate IUU fishing has resulted in positive improvements over the last year. In 2014, the EC removed Fiji, Togo, Panama, and Vanuatu from the yellow card list for demonstrating improved IUU governance. And on the same day the EC extended a yellow card to Thailand, it also announced that South Korea and the Philippines – two countries that received formal warnings in 2014 for IUU activities – have improved their IUU governance and legal systems, and have therefore been removed from the yellow-card list.
FishWise will continue to track developments with the EU’s IUU efforts. For further details about Thailand’s yellow-card status, please see the EC’s official press release here.
Seafood traceability is a complex topic, and without a common lexicon it can be difficult the advance the conversation. As part of our ongoing work in this area, FishWise has created a preliminary list of definitions to help all stakeholders use a common set of terms when discussing seafood traceability. These were first shared during our multi-stakeholder Traceability and IUU Strategy Meeting in October of 2014.
We hope this information will be a useful resource and we look forward to updating these terms over time to reflect ongoing traceability efforts.
What is seafood traceability?
There are numerous definitions of seafood traceability being used by those in academic, industry and NGO circles. The definitions range from general to more specific:
“The ability to access any or all information relating to that which is under consideration, throughout its entire life cycle, by means of recorded identifications” (Olsen and Borit, 2012).
“The ability to systematically identify a unit of production, track its location and describe any treatments or transformations at all stages of production, processing and distribution” (Magera and Beaton, 2009).
When thinking about traceability, it is important to remember that it is a tool than can be used to track product information both WITHIN a company and AMONG companies. Internal traceability is a form of traceability that “enables a company to follow a product through their system after receipt from the supplier” while external traceability “allows for the connection with immediate supply chain partners” (see FMI’s guide for retailers).
Companies who have external traceability choose the most appropriate method for their business in how they track traceability information and who they share that information with (see GTFC’s Traceability Tool). Records may be kept in the following ways:
Paper-based Traceability: Manual paper-based records of the source, transformation, aggregation, destination, and other associated information related to seafood products for traceability purposes.
Basic Electronic: Computerized record keeping of the source, transformation, aggregation, destination, and other associated information related to seafood products for traceability purposes.
Integrated Hardware Traceability: Integrated hardware (e.g. bar codes and readers, RFID tags and scanners) implemented to capture the source, transformation, aggregation, destination, and other associated information related to seafood products for traceability purposes. Integrated systems are frequently interoperable, meaning “different information technology systems and software applications [can] communicate, exchange data, and use that information” (GFTC, 2014).
When traceability systems only track from whom a company purchased or received products to whom they sent them to, it is known as “one up, one down sharing” or “one forward, one back sharing”. Permission-based sharing can involve formal agreements (e.g. non-disclosure agreements) between businesses in the supply chain pertaining to the sharing of more detailed traceability information (e.g. information related to harvest method, location, etc.). Finally, some firms have commercial transparency, in which traceability information related to their products is freely accessible to the public on their website, or via a consumer-facing application or certification register.
First, let’s begin with a big high-five to Chile, Gabon, Mozambique, Myanmar (Burma), New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, and the EU which have ratified or approved this agreement (source: Pew Charitable Trusts).
Now let’s review why this is an important piece of legislation at the United Nations:
Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) Fishing is a serious problem. Estimates of fishing losses to illegal activity range from $10-23.5 billion, representing 11-26 million tons of seafood (Agnew et al. 2009). Some countries suffer greatly (40% of West Africa’s total catches may be illegal) and, in others, illegal fishing may double the documented harvest numbers (Agnew et al. 2009). Furthermore, developing countries often bear the brunt of IUU fishing through lost revenue, decreased food security, and loss of biodiversity (FAO, 2012).
The Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, seeks to make it harder to land illegal product. Countries that ratify the treaty must: 1) designate ports through which foreign fishing vessels may enter; 2) conduct dockside inspections following set standards; 3) block entry to vessels known or believed to have been involved in IUU or those on an IUU vessel list of a Regional Fishery Management Organization (RFMO); and 4) share information with the governments of vessels with IUU product, when discovered during inspection.
What about the United States?
The U.S. has signed, but not yet ratified the treaty. On February 5th, 2015 members of Congress from both sides of aisle introduced the PSMA as a new bill (H.R. 774: Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015). The bill has now been referred to the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, where it awaits a vote.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) approved the PSMA to ‘Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing’on November 22, 2009. This treaty will go into effect once 25 countries have ratified the Agreement (ratified by 11 nations to date). It will likely take a few more years to have enough countries ratify the Agreement to move the PSMA forward to implementation.
While the PSMA is still awaiting ratification by 14 more countries, progress in some countries has been made to support implementation of the Agreement. For example, in April 2012, a global series of capacity-development workshops to support implementation of the Agreement was launched in Thailand, to cater to countries from Southeast Asia (FAO, 2012), a toolkit has been developed that outlines how to conduct a needs assessment (PSMA Toolkit), and work is being done to compare current RFMO traceability requirements against those of the PSMA (e.g. Pew, Closing the Gap, 2011). Seventeen countries have initiated the ratification process (See the PEW PSMA tracker).
FishWise will continue to monitor progress of the PSMA and let our retail and NGO partners, along with the public, know how they can help encourage the process.