Fishing nets on blue background

Seafood businesses need to talk about sustainability – together

Businesses know they need to invest in sustainable seas now. They’re coming together to figure out how best to start doing it.

In the seafood industry, businesses have shown that working together is a powerful tool for increasing sustainability and improving the health of the seas. Collaboration has wider and deeper impacts than individual efforts, particularly when they face challenges as complex as environmental sustainability, traceability and keeping the supply chain transparent. To guarantee business models stay profitable and competitive across the sector, seafood sellers are coming together to promote shared responsibility for the sea.

Collaborating means joining forces

This idea of working together can prevail even when people are in competition. When you play a team sport – basketball for instance – both teams are competing. Imagine if, after overuse, cracks appear in the court and the net starts falling apart. What will both teams naturally do? As regular players, chances are they will want someone to fix the court. They will likely join forces to make a request to the local authority. Collaboration between the two competing and opposite teams is born. And why is this? The answer is simple. Ten people have more clout than five.

In other words, working together gives you a greater chance of making a positive impact – for all.

Do seafood businesses like this?

Examples of collaboration on sustainability are increasing, with more and more seafood industry success stories. Initiatives can focus on increasing dialogue between competitors – like

the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) does in the UK. With a vision that all fish sold in the UK is from sustainable sources, the SSC offers an example of how businesses can successfully work together.

The SSC unites the majority of major retailers in the UK, as well as suppliers and representative bodies. We have pooled efforts to address environmental sustainability and build trust in the UK’s seafood supply chain. We developed voluntary codes of conduct to define responsible sourcing behaviours and labelling practices.

Other initiatives include businesses working together on improving sustainability in the fisheries themselves. The NFI Crab Council invests in improving fisheries on the ground by protecting crab hatcheries and promoting more selective gear. Businesses can also join forces to make united demands to reduce pressure on a specific species.

Why collaborate when I can do it on my own?

There a number of reasons precompetitive collaboration creates a win-win situation for society and sustainability:

  • Increased sustainability: When competitors collaborate to make sure the resource is protected, the result will be increased sustainability of the resource. For fish stocks, it is unlikely that single efforts from individual companies will have the scale of impact needed to deliver significant results. This is one of the problems with existing efforts to improve cocoa sustainability. With more than 120 initiatives that go in different directions, impacts have been limited. Setting common objectives and pooling resources is much more likely to have an effective outcome.
  • A level playing field: When sustainability ceases to be a competition issue, precompetitive collaboration creates a beneficial level playing field for the businesses involved – and that’s exactly how it should be. Businesses can then continue to compete in the marketplace, while working together towards healthier oceans.
  • Collaboration makes economic sense: Individual initiatives require an upfront investment and are followed by operating costs. Working together and even pooling financial resources towards the common goal can reduce costs.
  • Risk reduction: Reputational risk is a huge consideration for a business. In this case, the risk is public disapproval if unsustainable practices in business operations are happening. This is known as the “social license to operate”. Collaboration to invest in concrete sustainability actions will reduce this risk and improve the reputation of the industry as a whole. This is more efficient than individual efforts.

Precompetitive collaboration gets businesses talking together, to solve common problems. Alongside policy, cooperative industry action is one of the main ways we’ll address the major sustainability challenges of our times. Simply put: strength is in unity!

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