China is a big deal. On our desks alone, the pencil holders, lamps, monitors, and computers were all MADE IN CHINA. China’s impact on global markets is no secret, and the same holds for seafood. China is the biggest producer, consumer, and exporter of seafood in the world. With this market power, China holds enormous influence over seafood sustainability.
So it made sense to bring the 10th International Seafood Summit, an annual conference focused on seafood sustainability, to Hong Kong this past September. We were fortunate to attend, along with a few hundred other representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the seafood industry, research institutions, and management agencies.
Over the three-day conference, we learned a lot about what is going on around the world to improve the sustainability of seafood, and we learned about some of the continuing challenges. Overall, some themes emerged for us:
- IUU (Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated) fishing continues to be a problem. Many efforts are in place to trace product back to the vessel so that buyers can be assured their product was legally harvested. Overall, transparency is becoming an expectation, and opportunities for traceability are evolving.
- NGOs increasingly work with, rather than against, industry on initiatives to improve on the sustainability of seafood. Fishery Improvement Projects, or FIPs, are becoming ubiquitous around the world (stay tuned for more about an example of a FIP in Indonesia).
- Aquaculture plays a huge role in seafood production (over half of the world’s seafood supply is now farm-raised), bringing with it a whole suite of its own sustainability issues. The shear scope of people involved is overwhelming. In Thailand alone, there are over 1 million hectares dedicated to shrimp farming, and 80% of that production is small scale.
While we primarily focus on Gulf of Maine seafood here, understanding the global supply and marketplace helps enormously as we work with buyers who play a critical role in creating market demand for responsible practices around the world. After all, according to the FDA, we import over 80% of the seafood we consume, most of which hails from…You guessed it: China.