As anyone who works on sustainable supply chains knows, getting transparency and/or certification on the final pieces can often be the most difficult. Bumble Bee’s goals will require ensuring better practices around catch reporting and verification of data, and working with and training consultants and vessel operators.
“The numbers tend to speak for themselves — the approximate 30 percent change signals that there is a material difference year on year in what our customers and consumers can view as sustainable sourcing of products from Bumble Bee,” Ray Clarke, Bumble Bee’s VP of fisheries management & government affairs, told Sustainable Brands™. “More and more of our products are being produced in a manner that is viewed by an independent assessor as sustainable.”
Last year, 42 percent of the company’s seafood was externally recognized as sustainable or moving toward certification; this year, it's 71 percent. Of course, this growth is not by accident, but due to the company’s top-down commitment to change. Back in 2020, Bumble Bee launched its Seafood Future platform, which includes broad goals of protecting and nurturing the ocean and those who depend on it. With a set of clear, actionable objectives set around three pillars — fish, ocean and people — it has led the company to expand its efforts around sustaining fish stocks, eliminating plastic waste, ocean regeneration, labor practices and community programs.
“Protecting our ocean is the right thing to do for the planet, the billions of people who rely on seafood for sustenance and for the long-term success of our business,” Clarke says.
So, how did Bumble Bee accomplish this, particularly in what is recognized as a complex supply chain? Through partnerships and the use of data and technology. More recently, the company has explored electronic monitoring to collect fishing data to augment human fishery observers. The company has also reduced catch in certain regions — such as the Bay of Fundy in Canada and the Indian Ocean — where stock assessments indicated a decline in abundance of herring and yellowfin tuna, respectively. It’s often slow work — which, Clarke notes, requires building relationships and pushing for incremental change.
“We have learned that what can appear to be a simple request, such as keeping track of what the vessels catch in their nets and lines, can be a bit more complicated than it appears,” Clarke says.
A key partner is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) — an international non-profit organization that, among other things, manages a certification system for sustainable seafood.
“When major brands such as Bumble Bee make strong sustainability commitments and partner with the MSC, they are able to make a greater change on the water,” Angelina Skowronski, Commercial Manager for the Western United States at MSC, told Sustainable Brands. “As a large company with chain of custody certification and consumer messaging, Bumble Bee’s efforts signify to both fishing communities and consumers that sustainable fishing and protecting ocean health is important.”
Beyond Bumble Bee becoming MSC-certified sustainable with its trademark blue-label MSC stamp, MSC helps Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) transition into MSC-certified fisheries through their "In-transition to MSC" (ITM) program. Although ITM fisheries differ based on the species and fishery; essentially, it helps build a mechanism to demonstrate progress, build capacity and achieve full certification over time.
It’s not easy for a company to open its supply chain to scrutiny by independent, outside organizations. In fact, this is something that, unfortunately, too many brands never do. But to Clarke, working with groups such as MSC, the Global Sustainable Seafood Institute and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation has been critical to their success so far.
“Having an independent voice assessing our fishing practices allows for a robust process of incremental improvements,” Clarke says. “Continued and incremental improvement tends to be the pace of change in these fisheries, as opposed to large jumps or changes in the vessels’ operational practices.”
Which brings up an important point: The big jump from 2021 to 2022 is not just because of actions taken in the last year — but due to the impacts of efforts dating all the way back to 2013, when Bumble Bee first started working with MSC.
Bumble Bee still has a way to go to reach its ultimate goal — that 100 percent of its seafood be externally recognized as sustainable by 2025. That’s just three years away — so, there is much work to be done. As anyone who works on sustainable supply chains knows, it's getting transparency and/or certification on the final pieces that can often be the most difficult. For Bumble Bee, this means focusing on specialty product species — such as baby clams, mussels and mackerel; which are lagging behind tuna, wild salmon and surimi in terms of certified, sustainable sourcing.
Clarke noted that achieving Bumble Bee’s ultimate goal will require increased efforts to ensure better practices around catch reporting and verification of data, which means working with and training consultants and vessel operators: “Nonetheless, we are seeing progress on our efforts toward bringing all these actors to meet FIP and MSC certification standards.”
For MSC, the hope is that Bumble Bee’s efforts will spur more action and innovation in the seafood industry — which must continue to work with policymakers, scientists and other stakeholders to ensure the world’s fisheries are being sustainable managed. Currently, nearly 35 percent of global fish stocks are operating at unsustainable levels — a problem that is worsening due to climate change.
“Sustainability is an ongoing commitment and affects every part of the supply chain,” Skowronski asserts. “The goal is for every company in the seafood industry to think about their sourcing and embed sustainability in their business decisions.”