Sourcing Seafood Responsibly: Insights from the Hong Kong Sustainable Seafood Coalition
Supply chain transparency has become imperative in many industries. However, transparency in seafood supply chains, in particular, presents risks and challenges to corporates when attempting to conduct due diligence in line with emerging regulations or stock exchange disclosure requirements. The fundamental challenge to corporates buying or selling seafood in the Hong Kong market is to understand where their seafood comes from, and by which catch or farming method. Clarity into these aspects helps to ensure that the seafood is biologically sustainable or responsibly produced and is not contributing to illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU) fishing – an activity worth USD 9-17 billion that results in up to USD 50 billion in economic losses globally each year, and untold ecological damage.
According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Hong Kong ranks second in terms of seafood consumption in Asia and is the world’s eighth-largest seafood consumer. Companies sourcing seafood to meet this demand often find that the popular seafood in Asia has not been assessed in terms of its sustainability. The Hong Kong Sustainable Seafood Coalition (HKSSC), was established in 2018 to help companies buying and selling seafood in Hong Kong carry out due diligence on their seafood supply and to share common challenges and solutions on the topic.
Over the past fortnight, the HKSSC has hosted two webinars (one in English, one in Cantonese, both available on the HKSSC website) to help companies better understand seafood ratings and certifications that should form part of seafood sourcing strategies and share how the HKSSC can support on supply chain due diligence.
Three key challenges raised by participants during the webinars included:
- Buyers of seafood have fewer options when sourcing sustainably certified seafood,
- Sustainable seafood costs a premium, and
- Challenges are compounded for hoteliers and retailers by the fact that seafood is just one category among hundreds or thousands of other products that they may need to assess.
To address the first point, HKSSC Technical Advisor, Ms. Jacqui Dixon, stressed the importance of taking into consideration a range of certifications, as recognized by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) which has benchmarked a total of nine schemes including the commonly known Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). The GSSI-recognized schemes have all been assessed to be in alignment with 186 environmental, governmental, and operational criteria.
Regarding the cost of sustainable seafood, Huw Thomas, Founder, 3 Pillars Seafood and HKSSC Steering Committee member, underscored the fact that a shift to sourcing seafood responsibly should have the benefit of protecting vulnerable species and allowing fish stocks to recover. This increase in supply should have a positive effect on pricing.
Finally, the webinar discussed how the HKSSC allows companies to voluntarily commit to the scope of purchased seafood that they wish to assess and provides the tools and technical support to begin the journey of improving traceability in their supply chains. Guided by the HKSSC Voluntary Codes of Conduct, companies can use supplier questionnaires to gather information down their supply chains to begin this journey. This information can then be used to better understand the supply chain risks, make more educated purchasing decisions and develop appropriate policies and processes. By developing supply chain due diligence, organizations are able to source a wider range of seafood products than relying on certification schemes alone.
There is significant interest from increasingly aware consumers and investors to ensure that companies are working towards certain standards on environmental, social, and governance are met. While the HKSSC is predominantly focused on biological sustainability and environmental issues, ELEVATE is also helping companies to assess social risks in seafood supply chains through the Social Responsibility Assessment tool, an initiative of Fishchoice, Conservation International, and the seafood industry. We are providing training and materials around the use of the tool.
Co-developed as a collaborative resource by more than two dozen organizations, the Social Responsibility Assessment (SRA) Tool is a human rights due diligence tool designed to move the Monterey Framework from principles to action in industrial and small-scale fisheries, improving working conditions and wellbeing for fishers and communities. The SRA is used to assess risks of social issues, uncover critical information gaps, identify areas in need of improvement, and inform the development of a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) work plan that includes a social element. Read more on this topic here, or if you have any questions on the SRA, please contact us at [email protected].
ELEVATE operates as the Secretariat for the Hong Kong Sustainable Seafood Coalition. Companies and organizations interested in joining the HKSSC should contact us at [email protected] and follow the HKSSC LinkedIn account for updates on upcoming webinars and the latest industry news.
Additionally, join ELEVATE’s Meghan Quinlan and FishWise’s Jen Cole on September 30th, as they discuss how to support a responsible seafood supply chain, particularly risk assessments and improvements, and how recruitment can be used to support a robust due diligence approach. Register for the webinar here.
These blogs are written by ELEVATE staff members or associates and the views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of ELEVATE.