Oceans cover more than 70 percent of our planet’s surface and are home to 80 percent of life on earth. Fish, which provide 20 percent of daily protein intake to about 3.1 billion people, is among the most widely traded food commodities — at a value of US$145 billion annually.
The demand for fishing poses a key problem. Almost one-third of marine fish stocks were fished at biologically unsustainable levels in 2013, leading to a decline of stock from 90 percent in 1974 to 68.6 percent in 2013. As a response, aquaculture and fish farming have increased in popularity, but the unmanaged expansion has caused pollution and habitat degradation, leading to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn, contributes to ocean acidification.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), implemented to supersede the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), include SDG 14 — Life Below Water, which aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources” of the world.
The challenge today is for corporations to fully embrace the concept that the oceans are an essential resource that need to be carefully managed to support a sustainable future. The question that remains is, how can the global community source fish in such a way that contributes to economic and business growth, without endangering the environment?
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Three steps can promote sustainable fishing throughout company supply chains within the guidance of SDG 14:
Step 1: Map the supply chain to identify sources of risks
Operating a supply chain in line with SDG 14 offers businesses many benefits. The Goal aims to preserve the world’s oceans, ensure resources can be exploited sustainably, and fight poverty in the regions where fisheries and aquaculture are most common. Managing the supply chain in this way allows companies to reduce risks, secure resources and increase the positive impact of their activities. A supply chain risk assessment aligned with SDG 14 allows companies to know exactly where to focus efforts, making actions more effective.
SDG 14 identifies the environmental and social aspects affecting oceans, and is an excellent starting point for structuring an action plan. Companies can endorse external initiatives that promote sustainability and the protection of oceans, such as the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the Global Aquaculture Alliance or the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.
Protecting the oceans is a task that requires actions in several different areas. For example, promoting environmental best practices for aquaculture and fish farm suppliers is vital to ensure success at an environmental and business level. Research has shown that better environmental performance of farms can improve yield and economic results, which also translates into better living conditions and progress for local communities. If the supply chain relies on catching fish in open waters, then special attention must be paid to reduce the amount of by-catch, minimizing the impact on the natural environment and allowing oceans to maintain their natural balance.
Step 3: Get certified
Finally, making the company’s commitment known is important for all stakeholders, especially for customers. Being certified is one way for companies to show they are taking full responsibility for sustainability. There are different schemes that verify and attest for responsible sourcing, such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Chain of Custody Standard certification or the ASMI Chain of Custody. Companies can also aim at obtaining eco-labels, such as France’s Label Rouge. Obtaining these certifications requires constant auditing, which helps companies ensure that the supply chain is well managed and sustainable, working towards the achievement of SDG 14.
Ocean plastic pollution has become a topic of great concern; it was even the theme of this year’s Earth Day. There is still hope that our ocean will finally get the attention it deserves — but only if companies, governments and citizens begin to act now to protect and improve the health of our seas and coastal areas through sustainable use of marine resources.