At Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), we are working toward a world where all seafood is produced sustainably. But what does that mean? And how can we all help contribute toward achieving that goal? (See Spanish version here.)

What is sustainable seafood? 

Sustainability means meeting our own needs today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. For seafood, this means, most simply, ensuring that the amount of seafood harvested does not threaten the health of the species population, or stock. There are also other important considerations, including safeguarding healthy marine and aquatic ecosystems; preventing negative impacts on endangered, threatened, and protected species; and protecting the livelihoods, health, and safety of fishers and fishing communities. 

Today, less than 20 percent of the world’s seafood is produced sustainably. And the outlook for the future of seafood still points to global overfishing and a dwindling supply within the next 50 years. But there is still time to reverse that prognosis. SFP was founded with the intention to rebuild the world’s most depleted fisheries and reduce the negative environmental and social impacts of fishing and fish farming by mobilizing the private sector – like grocery stores and retailers, and their seafood suppliers – to get more involved in solutions. 

How your seafood choices make a difference

At SFP, partnership is in our name. We work closely with seafood producers, processors, suppliers, and retailers. Many of them you’ve probably never heard of, but others are the grocery stores you shop in every week, the large retailers you frequent, or the foodservice companies that supply your favorite restaurant. 

Everyday shoppers can help make seafood more sustainable and contribute to ocean conservation by choosing to shop at stores or in restaurants that are involved in sustainable seafood efforts. While certified and green rated fish is always a good choice – and we work closely with many organizations that certify and rate wild and farmed seafood –  there are a lot of steps that need to be taken before a fishery can be certified, and there are many fisheries that are working hard to improve their practices or achieve certification but just aren’t quite there yet. Our model is to work with suppliers and retailers to use the leverage of the supply chain to steadily improve fisheries, rather than having buyers switch sources. Leverage is basically the ability to influence your suppliers – if you’re already an important customer to someone and you want them to make an improvement, then you have influence as a customer. Check out the web site for your favorite grocery store or restaurant and see if they have any information about the efforts they’re making to source sustainable seafood. The Ocean Disclosure Project is also a great place to look to see which companies are actively working on sustainable seafood. 

Large buyers, such as major supermarkets or retail chains and major foodservice providers, can use their leverage to encourage change all the way down their supply chains, from their wholesalers and suppliers down to the fishers out on the water. SFP partners commit to sourcing seafood from fisheries or fish farms that are either already sustainable or where environmental impacts are being actively addressed, and then they work with us to monitor those fisheries to ensure that promised improvements are being made. Our retail market partners want responsibly sourced seafood – partly because their customers demand it, but also because they recognize that it’s the right thing to do to secure future supply – and they work closely with us and their suppliers to make this happen. 

How do we work? 

We use a unique and proven set of tools to advance toward seafood sustainability: 

Fishery improvement projects (FIPs): FIPs bring together retailers, processors, producers, and fishers to improve practices in a source fishery. The term fishery describes an organized effort by fishers in a region to catch specific species of fish or other seafood, often with similar fishing gear types. Depending on the fishery, improvements might involve anything from changing the gear used to catch fish, to government policy management changes, to implementing catch limits, to educating fishers on best practices. Fishery Progress is an online source of information on the progress and achievements of FIPs globally. 

Aquaculture improvement projects (AIPs): Like FIPs, AIPs bring together many members of the supply chain to address sustainability issues, but in aquaculture industries or production areas, rather than wild fisheries. These projects work at a regional scale, to reduce the cumulative and combined impacts of aquaculture practices, including water usage, zoning, and disease management. SFP’s AIP Directory provides information on AIPs around the world. 

Supply Chain Roundtables: As the number of FIPs and AIPs has grown rapidly around the world, we realized the need for enhanced cooperation to coordinate improvement efforts and increase their impact. So we created Supply Chain Roundtables, or SRs, in key seafood sectors, to bring together major buyers and importers of seafood to scale-up their individual activities and jointly advocate for better fisheries policy and management. 

How can you know if companies are meeting their commitments to sustainable seafood? 

It is not enough just to commit to sourcing sustainable seafood – it is important to demonstrate that these commitments are being achieved. A key part of our work is that industry must be transparent about seafood sourcing and improvement efforts and publicly report on their performance, so that investors and consumers can hold them accountable. 

The companies we partner with are willing to make the intensive effort it takes to gather data on their existing supply chain sources to determine how those fisheries are performing, and SFP offers several tools to help companies do so. Our public FishSource database contains profiles on thousands of fisheries, and we process that data and make it available to industry through a customized private reporting system called Seafood Metrics. Companies that want to go the extra mile can join the Ocean Disclosure Project, an online reporting platform where companies can disclose their seafood sourcing and answer the question: “Where does my seafood come from?” 

What you need to know about farmed seafood 

There are a lot of questions about farmed seafood, or aquaculture, and whether it is good or bad for your health and for the environment. Americans, in particular, seem to have a love-hate relationship with farmed fish, although it is viewed much more as a mainstream seafood source in other parts of the world. Aquaculture has a key role to play in feeding a growing world population and, when done responsibly, can create jobs, support communities, and increase access to safe, affordable, and sustainable seafood. 

Aquaculture today accounts for more than half of all seafood consumed around the world, and that proportion is expected to continue to increase. Yet, less than 10 percent of global production is certified at the farm level by any of the major international standards (Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practices, or Global G.A.P.). We are working with partners including High Liner Foods, Nestlé, SeaFresh, and Beaver Street Fisheries to support improvements through our Supply Chain Roundtables and aquaculture improvement projects (AIPs), but much more work is needed in this important part of the seafood sector. 

Partners in Action

We’d like to share a few examples of how SFP’s partnerships and collaborations have increased the availability of sustainable seafood: 

Auchan’s ethical sourcing commitments 

Fortune International’s sustainable seafood policy

Giant Eagle’s sustainable tuna policy

Jealsa’s We Sea corporate social responsibility program

McDonald’s journey to creating a better Filet O’Fish

Publix’s leadership on seafood sustainability 

Tesco’s commitment to public disclosure of its seafood sourcing 

Walmart’s system for measuring and tracking supplier performance on its tuna sourcing