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Harnessing Business Purpose to Safeguard Our Oceans

Our Ocean 2019 gathered leaders from government, business and civil society to discuss solutions and actions for a clean healthy and productive ocean. It set the stage for bold action to safeguard our oceans — and the sense of urgency is mounting.

Climate change, overfishing, habitat loss and pollution are combining to place our oceans under unprecedented pressure. As leaders search for ways to relieve this pressure, radical policy changes such as the closure of large areas of our oceans to commercial activity are seen, by some campaigners, as the only way to curb overfishing and preserve habitats. But there are other solutions on the table — and many of these include working with global business to find ways of using our oceans sustainably while still delivering a profit, ensuring fishing communities’ livelihoods are maintained, and providing invaluable nutrition for a growing global population.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were created with the explicit understanding that they couldn’t be achieved through government action alone. Delivering these Goals — including Goal 14: Life Below Water — requires the mobilisation and transformation of businesses, consumers and fishing communities, alongside government policies.

Business rethinking corporate purpose

Over the past year we’ve started to see many big businesses rethinking their corporate purpose as they embrace society’s larger goals, responding to political and consumer pressure. But the MSC programme, and other market-driven credible certification programmes, have been early movers in this industry-wide change. Now in our 22nd year, certified sustainable seafood from MSC is not only seen as a route into markets with increasingly conscientious consumers, it is a way to drive change on the water.

When IKEA, for example, committed to sourcing only MSC- and ASC-certified seafood, it also invested into a fisheries-improvement project to improve the sustainability of crayfish, with the goal of MSC certification. The certification of Russian cod, pollock and salmon fisheries was, to a large extent, motivated by demand from international businesses such as McDonald’s and Nomad Foods — responsible for the Birds Eye, Findus and Iglo brands. We’ve also seen significant strides taken in putting tuna fisheries on a path to sustainability with the support of partners including Thai Union and Bolton.

Retail and brand commitments are also increasing interest in sustainable fishing in regions with historically lower levels of engagement. The commitments of AEON and JCCU in Japan, for example, are slowly starting to influence fisheries in the region to look to progress towards MSC certification.

Leaders for a Living Ocean

However, in recognition of the need to engage our partners more widely in our mission to have 20 percent of global wild seafood catch engaged in the MSC programme by 2020, we launched Leaders for a Living Ocean at the Our Ocean summit in 2017. This initiative included 27 leading seafood businesses and fishing organisations making tangible and timebound commitments to safeguard our oceans through sustainable seafood certification. The Leaders for a Living Ocean include household names such as Aldi, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Mars Petcare, Eroski and IKEA; alongside hugely influential fishing organisations such as the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council, Danish Fisheries Producers Organization and Iceland Sustainable Fisheries. What started as 27 commitments has increased over the past three years to 40.

The commitments by the Leaders for a Living Ocean underpin the unifying power of, and the ongoing growth in the MSC programme. Since 2017, the percentage of the world’s wild seafood catch to be certified to the MSC’s international standard for sustainable fishing has increased from 12 percent to 15 percent. This includes 30 percent more MSC-certified white fish. With this, the volume of seafood sold with the MSC label has increased by more 27 percent from 730,000 tonnes in 2016-17 to 1 million tonnes in 2018-19.

Encouragingly we’re also seeing in roads being made in the Global South, where more than half global seafood supplies originate, but where historically fewer fisheries have sought certification. Between 2017 and 2019 the number of fisheries in the Global South engaged in the MSC programme increased from 59 to 124.

I applaud the organisations taking part in Leaders for a Living Ocean. They deserve recognition for their efforts. With delivery of SDG 14 lagging behind other development goals, we all need to do more to commit to driving long lasting change at a global scale.

Read about the commitments of each of the Leaders for a Living Ocean.