Sustainable Seafood Symposium
Seafood is a vital food and economic source for hundreds of millions of people living and working in Asia. The vast majority of people engaged in the primary sector of fishing and fish farming are in Asia, and small fishing vessels and small fisher farmers dominate seafood production. It is estimated that 55% of the world’s fishing vessels operate in the South China Sea, contributing significantly to trade and employment in the region.
Hong Kong is the second largest per capita consumer of seafood in Asia, with the city importing as much as 90 per cent of its seafood from over 170 countries and territories around the world. The seafood choices made in Hong Kong thus have a significant impact on global marine resources, and in particular on the resources found in Asia.
The demand for cheap seafood coupled with incredibly complex supply chains and the lack of a legislative framework to enforce traceability of seafood products coming into Hong Kong mean that fish being sold in supermarkets, restaurants and hotels have a high chance of being illegally caught and/or unsustainable. Market-based measures, such as certification of wild-caught and farmed-fish products, have a significant contribution to make in shifting awareness and influencing the purchasing behavior of consumers. However this requires consumer education around certification standards and sustainability issues. With the publication of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 14 concerning exploitation of the oceans, the role of retailers, supermarkets and the food service industry goes beyond simply supporting and enabling this shift in consumer awareness to actual choice editing. Consumers should be provided with one choice alone – sustainable, legally caught, ethically sourced seafood that is traceable to the ocean or farm of origin. Without such traceability, consumers may unwittingly purchase products that drive illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU) and destructive fishing.
There is significant work to be done in getting seafood buyers in Hong Kong to understand the risks involved in seafood purchasing and the general trends towards due diligence and supply chain integrity, as seen elsewhere in the world such as in Europe, Australia, Japan and the USA. Furthermore, consumers need to be better informed and retailers and restaurants should take a more active role in informing their patrons.
The Sustainable Seafood Symposium Event
The first Sustainable Seafood Symposium dedicated to industry professionals in Hong Kong was coordinated by Jacqui Dixon of Pacific Andes in May 2015. A second symposium in May 2017 was co-organized by Teng Hoi and ADM Capital Foundation with the support of The Swire Group Charitable Trust. This second symposium was aimed at identifying the challenges faced by commercial buyers when it comes to sourcing sustainable seafood and what can be done collectively as an industry and individually within organizations to address concerns over IUU fishing. Just over 100 people representing supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, catering services, distributors, wholesalers and producers across Hong Kong participated in the event.
Supermarkets, hotels and restaurants are vital players in this entire discussion as the key channels for consumers to purchase and consume seafood in Hong Kong. The decisions made in purchasing practices determine the health of the product, the health of the environment from which it comes and the health of the people that harvest it. Understanding these issues and the risks businesses are exposed to through their seafood supply chains can be challenging, especially knowing where to start.
The 2017 Symposium brought together fifteen speakers with a wealth of knowledge and expertise across the seafood sustainability landscape, specifically chosen to share insights into:
- The major health concerns related to seafood that will impact consumers
- Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing
- The overfishing landscape in our oceans and in particular the South China Seas
- Traceability and how this is becoming such an important market differentiating factor
- Why transparency and the labeling of seafood products is becoming increasingly more important
- How forced labour and human rights issues are connected to the seafood industry
- Practical solutions and technologies to enable companies to source, track and trace sustainable seafood
- The types of procurement policies that have been adopted by retailers elsewhere and in particular across Asia
- The risks specific to Hong Kong in seafood supply chains
The Symposium set out to explore how buyers can approach these issues of sustainability in an efficient, logical and cost-effective way and how they can begin to treat these concerns as they would any other business issue. The aim was to foster dialogue and to build consensus.
The organisers of the Symposium, Teng Hoi Conservation Organisation and ADM Capital Foundation would like to ensure momentum continues following the Symposium and the voluntary commitments discussed are further explored and ultimately get implemented. It is envisaged that a dedicated Steering Committee will be formed to help the Hong Kong seafood buying industry develop a Voluntary Code of Conduct and a common language when it comes to communicating issues related to sustainable seafood.
The Symposium would not have been possible without the support of partners and sponsors, in particular The Swire Group Charitable Trust for funding the event, to Cathay Pacific for flying our international speakers to Hong Kong, and to the two seafood sponsors New Bon Marine and Pacific Rich Resources for supporting the cocktails event that followed. We would also like to acknowledge the sponsorship of Vegware for supplying a range of eco-friendly products for the catering.