By Monica Jain
When we buy seafood, whether it’s salmon, scallops, or sea bass, we may ask where the fish is from or how fresh it is. Is it local? Caught today? Farmed?
And we may conjure up an image of a fisherman on the water, but we rarely think about the full path that fish took on its way to our plates. Similarly, when we hear about environmental innovations in seafood, it is often around specific changes to how we catch or farm fish – use of turtle excluder devices, changes in fishery quotas, or new aquaculture feeds, for example.
But simply improving one element of the supply chain in isolation will not get us to sustainable oceans. Without businesses throughout the supply chain that value and differentiate sustainable seafood from pirated, illegal, or wastefully processed products, there is no market incentive for fish farmers or fishermen to change their production or capture practices.
It is also important that businesses that value sustainability demonstrate that they are successfully carving out market share from traditional sources, providing investors with confidence in these businesses’ ability to succeed and grow – and encouraging them to provide the capital needed to scale their operations.
Simply put, all these links together mean that, to see large-scale business growth of fish farms and fishing operations that use sustainable practices, we need more business innovation at every point along the seafood supply chain and in the connections among these pieces.
For example, a sustainable fisherman or farmer must have accurate data and sustainable cost-effective options for their own gear and supplies. This enables them to fish and farm most sustainably. Then they must be able to sell their products up the supply chain – to a distributor or processor – that values sustainability enough to differentiate the sustainable fish from other fish that looks the same but was not captured or farmed sustainably.
In turn, this distributor must be able to partner with or sell to a processor or another distributor who also values, upholds the integrity, and who ideally pays a bit more for sustainable seafood. If any piece of the chain does not value or distinguish sustainable seafood from traditional products, it is difficult for the businesses at the beginning of the chain to survive and compete in the marketplace.
To help visualize how these pieces fit together, we developed a simple schematic, dividing the supply chain into six stages:
Stage 1: Pre-production inputs. This first stage happens even before fish are caught or framed. It includes the collection and analysis of information that is critical to the sustainable management of fisheries or fish farms. It also encompasses advances in the materials that go into fishing and farming.
Stage 2: Actual capture of wild fish at sea or production of fish and shellfish on farms.
Stage 3: Purchase and collection of seafood at the docks or farms.
Stage 4: Preparation of value-added products. This is where whole fish are filleted, breaded, canned, or otherwise packaged into appealing consumer products.
Stage 5: Distribution and logistics – getting fresh and frozen seafood products to customers.
Stage 6. Sales. This final stage is what most of us see: the seafood on our plates, in restaurants, or on the shelves in our favorite supermarket.
Opportunities to capture market share from traditional businesses exist in each of these areas, as well as in the connections among them. Entrepreneurs from around the globe are working hard to build on these opportunities.
We saw many examples of this entrepreneurial activity in the 2013 Fish 2.0 business competition: enterprises like BackTracker help managers get timely information on the health of wild fish populations; Blue Planet has new technology to reduce waste and water use in land-based aquaculture; and WildFish Marketing LCC uses waste from existing processors to create new products.
We also see many companies filling sustainability gaps by integrating multiple parts of the supply chain into one business. For example, Organic Ocean and Local Catch work across several stages of the supply chain. They buy seafood from fishermen using sustainable practices, process and package the products, and then both sell and deliver seafood to consumers, restaurants, and chefs who care about sustainability.
Public interest in the oceans, sustainable products, and healthy foods continues to drive demand for sustainable seafood. To be sure that this end demand will truly influence large-scale fishing and farming, we must continue to grow and connect these types of businesses that value and enhance social and environmental sustainability.
Momentum is building in this arena, and we are excited to see more innovative business ideas in Fish 2.0 2015. If you know of a business or investor interested in growing and disrupting sustainable seafood supply chains, please have them connect with us at www.fish20.org.