Sustainable seafood catching on here

India's Ashtamudi Estuary short-neck clam fishery, one out of some 250 fisheries which have been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Photo: Marine Stewardship Council
Samantha Boh MyPaper AsiaOne 21 Jul 15;

More businesses here are switching to sustainable seafood, with the number of certified suppliers more than tripling over the past three years.

So far, 10 suppliers have been given the stamp of approval by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a global non-profit organisation that certifies responsibly caught seafood.

Worldwide, over 250 fisheries have pledged their support to MSC to target well-managed, sustainable species which are not considered to be over-fished, and to put in place safeguards to curb bycatch and other destructive fishing practices.

Two hotels - the Hilton and Grand Hyatt - also recently received certification by MSC for serving sustainable seafood at several of their restaurants.

Several other restaurants are expected to follow suit, with five now in discussions with MSC.

"Awareness is growing fast, but... there is no time to lose," said a spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which works with the council to spread the message that the world's oceans are depleting rapidly.

According to WWF, the world's oceans will no longer be able to provide people with seafood by 2048.

Ninety per cent of global fish stocks are over-fished and 61 per cent fully fished, meaning there is already no room for further fishing.
The variety of plant and animal life in the ocean has also dropped by 39 per cent since the 1970s, and fishermen have reached the point of fishing from juvenile fish stocks.

"If you've had bluefin tuna sushi lately, you've enjoyed a piece of the last 4 per cent - compared to unfished levels," WWF spokesman said.
It was precisely this bleak future that spurred some seafood suppliers, such as Global Oceanlink, to do their part despite having to shoulder higher costs.

The company started by converting 1 per cent of its seafood to sustainably caught ones in 2010 and this included snow crabs. Not only were the crabs up to 15 per cent more expensive than those from non-certified sources, but they were also harder to sell.

That cut the company's margins for snow crabs to the bare minimum, said operations director Dennis Ng, 39.

"But sometimes it is not just about dollars and cents; this is part of our corporate social responsibility to save the oceans," he said.

Over the past five years, Global Oceanlink has increased the amount of sustainable snow crabs it supplies to 10,000kg a month, despite taking three years to reap profits from selling sustainable snow crabs.

In total, the company supplies around 15,000kg of sustainable seafood per month to some 60 businesses.

Others have taken similar steps.

Lee Fish Asia's sales manager, Sam Buck, 38, noted that there could be a price difference of up to 50 per cent for certain fish such as cod. Despite this, the company has doubled its sustainable seafood range to 80 per cent since it opened here in 2008. It now supplies about 32,000kg of sustainable seafood to about 60 hotels and restaurants each month.

Another supplier, Far Ocean Sea Products, received its MSC certification in January. It has already been selling sustainable seafood for years.

It now supplies sustainable seafood to 15 businesses, accounting for about 20 per cent of its overall seafood supply.

Lee Fish and Far Ocean said that cost is still a stumbling block, as many food and beverage businesses are not willing to make the switch if it means paying more.

"It is difficult to initiate it as a supplier as the price is not the same, (so) you have to wait for your customer to be interested and he will be interested when the consumer is," said a spokesman for Far Ocean Sea Products.

Kelvin Ng, 43, commercial director of South-east Asia and Hong Kong at MSC, hopes that the commitment by big hotels such as Hilton and Grand Hyatt will get the ball rolling for more to commit to sustainable seafood, especially supermarkets.

He hopes that as MSC labels become more common, consumers will look out for them and choose labelled products over unlabelled ones.

"The problem now is that while consumers here are aware, they are not asking and retailers are under no pressure to differentiate themselves," he said.