Powerful Friend to Fisheries Formed

by Clark Tate

July 23, 2013—With so much news bemoaning the depleted state of ocean fisheries these days, it’s hard to enjoy a good basket of fish and chips without a hefty side of guilt, and we aren’t talking about the grease. A new coalition of seafood distributors called Sea Pact is hoping to assuage such burdens for the average seafood consumer by supporting eco-friendly fishery and aquaculture practices at an entirely different level in the supply chain. Complementing efforts such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which works from the bottom up to educate everyday diners on eco-friendly fish options, newly formed Sea Pact is working from the middle man out.

The Pact was inspired by a pioneering partnership between seafood distributor Santa Monica Seafood and Santa Cruz–based FishWise, a sustainable seafood consulting group working with fish retailers such as grocery stores and their customers. According to Sea Pact’s website, the two organizations created the Responsible Sourcing/Vendor Partnership (RSVP) Program, which donated funds to fishery and aquaculture improvement projects.

Other companies soon took notice. Today Sea Pact members span North America and include Vancouver’s Albion Fisheries, Toronto’s Seacore Seafood, Chicago’s Fortune Fish & Gourmet, Boston’s Ipswich Shellfish Group, Denver’s Seattle Fish Co. of Denver and Santa Monica Seafood out of Los Angeles. These companies were chosen for having already demonstrated a commitment to sustainable practices. Collectively they supply seafood to the top 20 retailers throughout North America, ranging from national grocery chains such as Safeway to local flavor like Pebble Beach Resorts.

The broader based Sea Pact will stick to its RSVP roots, coordinating to financially support projects that implement sustainable fish farming and harvesting methods. Funds could improve a mahi mahi fishery in Ecuador or support migratory leatherback sea turtles in Papua New Guinea.

Sea Pact members have not committed to changing their seafood sourcing practices. Members will still ply the markets for good deals on seafood. It’s just that now a portion of the profits created by all the normal wheeling and dealing will go back to supporting their own source, the world’s fisheries. “They are, however, hoping to make the fisheries that they already source from more sustainable as well as fund the development of more sustainable fisheries that they may be able to source from in the future,” says Meghan Frolli, project director at FishWise.

Perhaps more significant than the Sea Pact membership's diverse geographic locations or their market share is the precedent that such a partnership creates. As Frolli says, “They are exemplifying that seafood sustainability is important enough to their business to collectively pool resources to fund improvement and conservation projects.”

The Pact hopes that this example will spread, bringing in new members from around the world to expand both the scope and the number of projects supported.

According to Sea Pact’s website, FishWise and fellow supply side NGO the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership will provide sustainability counsel for the Pact while New Venture Fund will act as a fiscal sponsor, managing grants and contracts.

Organized industry backing at this level could be a pivotal boon for the environment, as it brings with it what scattered consumers can’t: leveraged buying power. Such fiscal clout could exert meaningful influence on fishing practices and will allow Sea Pact to tackle bigger problems than any individual company could expect to take on alone. That’s a very good thing when you have an ocean full of them. Hopefully we’ll see the results off our shores and on our plates.

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