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Reflections on the 10th Annual Seafood Summit

Posted by Mary Smith, on September 14th, 2012 in Announcements, Sustainability

Hong Kong –  just a little fishing port in Southern China… that 7 million people call home and is an international financial center. Not to mention that skyline! Imagine every city you’ve ever been to rolled into one, and then add fireworks!

It’s fitting that the 10th International Seafood Summit was held in Hong Kong – because it really was once just a little fishing port and it is an international financial center. It’s just like the seafood industry itself; it starts with a fisherman on a boat and then it ends as a billion dollar global industry.

Where exactly is that industry heading? That’s what we were all in Hong Kong to talk about. There were successes to celebrate, issues to confront and a big, complicated future to ponder.

seaweb seafood summitAt the last summit in Vancouver, it seemed like FIPS (Fishery Improvement Projects) and AIPS (Aquaculture Improvement Projects) were all anyone was talking about. I was sitting at a dinner on the second night thinking “if I hear someone say “FIPS and AIPS one more time I am going to scream!” Well, FIPS and AIPS were on the tip of everyone’s tongues in Hong Kong as well, but this time around it was more than just a discussion of what their potential was – it was a discussion of how to do them better, how to secure funding, how to tell the stories of both the successes and the failures.

As you probably know, an AIP was the reason I was in China prior to the summit. We’re already involved in one FIP in the Gulf of California with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, and the Summit was a good chance to learn about what other opportunities are out there that we might want support directly with a financial contribution, or more indirectly but using our purchasing practices as a form of leverage. So hooray for FIPS and AIPS!  FIPS and AIPS!  Say it again!

As far as challenges, Stephen Hall of the World Fish Center gave some really thought provoking opening remarks. He called us all to task to stay focused on a couple of polarities within our industry.

Don’t forget about freshwater fisheries. We’re so focused on the multitude of issues that impact marine fisheries that we sometimes forget about the freshwater set. They account for as much seafood production as the marine sector, so it only makes sense that they deserve as much attention.

Same goes for small scale fisheries - we need to stop focusing so much on large scale fisheries and pay more attention to the rest of the world – according to Hall, “Small-scale fisheries in developing countries employ a larger workforce and produce more fish for poor consumers than large-scale production” so again, it only makes sense that they deserve as much attention.

Another challenge that came out of the conference is the need for continued, if not improved, communication and collaboration. My first Summit was in Chicago back in 2004, when it was a handful of people sitting around a conference table, and we didn’t even need the biggest private room at Shaw’s Crab house for a post conference dinner. Partnerships between seafood businesses and NGO’s were really new back then; it didn’t seem strange to me (I was pretty psyched about all those free tickets to the Shedd Aquarium) but it’s been a bit of an uphill climb for us all to work together. The struggle reminds me sometimes of a t-shirt I saw a young Inupiaq kid wearing that said “Save the Whales. They’re our Food.”

We’ve got to work together and that means listening to each other, asking each other for help, challenging our assumptions and remembering that we all have a common goal – a sustainable wild fishery and aquaculture industry. Save the fish so we can eat them. Makes a lot of sense to me. But then again so did sampling sustainable seafood recipes in front of the main tank at the Shedd – people were a little confused about eating fish while ogling them and talking about conservation issues, but I think we made our point.

It makes a lot of sense to the rest of the world, too. Seafood, or “fish food” as Stephen Hall called it, is going to feed us all. As several presentations noted, when it comes to sustainability, animal protein from fish and shellfish in many ways has other animal proteins (like beef and pork) beat hands down… it’s not just a question of “which fish is best” but more a question of “what protein is best.”

We’re in the right industry. Responsibly sourced seafood can feed the world. Although I admit that I do share Stephen Hall’s “cautious optimism”; we have only begun to make the necessary changes that will keep this industry sustainable.

What’s next? During the closing session, several people cautioned us to not miss the “Black Swans” that pose the biggest threat – issues like climate change and ocean acidification that have already begun to impact our industry. We’ll work to do a better job communicating these issues to you, and will pledge to keep them on the front burner.

If you’ve never attended a Summit, think about going next year. We were all challenged to bring a friend, especially those of us in the private sector. If you’ve thought about going but haven’t, I’d love to know why! Or, if you’re not convinced it’s the place for you, let me know why and I’ll see if I can change your mind. As soon as the next Summit is announced we’ll let you know, and we’ll hope to see you there.

Until then, eat more Fish Food!

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One Response to “Reflections on the 10th Annual Seafood Summit”

  1. [...] mix of new news, bad news and potentially good news!  As we discussed in an earlier post, small fisheries often get far less attention that large fisheries, so we’re happy to share [...]

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