Q:   What is Sustainable Fisheries Partnership?

A:   SFP is a not-for-profit organization registered in the US that works with leading retailers, restaurants, hotel chains and consumer brands to make fishing and fish farming more sustainable. We employ more than sixty experts with backgrounds in fishing, fish farming, seafood retailing and marine conservation. We do not engage in public advocacy and aspire to be the trusted advisors of the seafood industry. We strive to always be objective, truthful, scientific and transparent.

Q:  What do you do?

A:  We want to improve the management of all fisheries and fish farming sectors so that every consumer – regardless of income or nationality – can have access to sustainable seafood. We’re working to help both consumers and industry be sure they will have a steady supply of seafood in the future without damaging the oceans or running out of fish.

SFP aims for the day when everyone can buy sustainable seafood. We move toward that goal by working with leading companies who buy and sell seafood to help them improve the fisheries and farms that are important to their customers. We do this by bringing together all interested parties to agree upon and implement improvements that will allow a fishery or farming area to meet international sustainability standards.

Q:  What kind of changes do you want to see happen in fisheries?

A:  We usually recommend that every fishery undergo an assessment to see where the problems might be and then creates a work plan for fixing the problems – although often the first challenge is to get enough data to make an accurate assessment.

Typically, the main issues that need to be addressed are too many fish being caught or the accidental catching of other species. Sometimes there are also physical impacts on the sea floor that need to be reduced.

Q:  How do you do it?

A:  We work directly with leading companies that sell seafood. This includes global retailers such as Walmart, restaurant chains such as McDonalds, food brands such as Nestle, distributors such as Fortune Fish & Gourmet and suppliers such as North Star Seafood.

Our main task is to help companies understand the sustainability of the seafood they sell and to provide guidance on how these sources can be improved. We don’t create seafood policies for companies, but we do help them implement the policies that they already have.

We always expect partners to commit to continuous improvement and we strongly recommend that companies work toward ensuring their seafood comes from certified sources or sources that are involved in improvement programs.

Q:  Where does the information come from?

A:  SFP has built FishSource, a public database of fishing information that now covers more than 1,900 separate stocks and fisheries based on scientific data. All the data on Fishsource comes from reputable sources in the public domain – government agencies, academic institutions and so on. This allows the industry to assess the sustainability of the seafood it sources and understand the improvements that will be required in the future. We also provide SFP Metrics, which allows companies to see their performance in sourcing sustainable seafood and participate in improvement efforts.

Q:  How do you make fishing more sustainable?

A:  We don’t operate Fishery and Aquaculture Improvement Projects directly but focus on helping the seafood industry run its own improvement projects. The industry is best placed to make the necessary changes happen because it has the relationships across the supply chain and a huge practical interest in protecting seafood supplies in the future.

We train and support companies to run Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) and provide the data that allows them to start the process. The basic steps in creating improvement projects involve getting the key players in the fishery together, assessing the problems, creating a work plan and then implementing the changes required.

Q:  What are you doing for fish farms?

A:  There are already many reputable certification systems for individual fish farms so we don’t try to replicate that work. Instead, we look at the bigger picture and try to work out how best to manage the cumulative impacts of many farms operating in the same area. We call this the “zonal approach,” and it’s really about making sure that the total impact of farms in an area is not damaging productivity or the environment – for instance, through disease or water pollution.

Q:  Which seafood certifications do you support?

A:  We support any seafood certification that makes a claim that is accurate and can be supported by facts in the public domain. We also expect good standards to involve many different interest groups in setting the criteria and a high level of public reporting.

At present we only accept the Marine Stewardship Council as a public facing claim of “sustainability” for fisheries, but we also recognize other standards that claim to identify responsible practices such as the Alaskan and Icelandic Responsible Fishery Management standards. It would be good for industry if there was an alternative standard to the MSC that offered the same level of performance, but this doesn’t exist at present.

The only seafood certifications we don’t support are those that operate in secrecy, make claims that cannot be verified by publicly available facts and just represent particular interest groups rather than a broad range of participants from different sectors.

Q:  Isn’t it up to governments to manage fisheries and fish farms?

A:  Only governments can make the laws that regulate fisheries but many don’t have the capacity or data to effectively manage these resources. Even in countries that do have the capacity, short-term political interests can win over longer-term sustainability interests. The seafood industry has the interest and the capacity to help make fisheries more sustainable and is a natural choice for leading this work.

SFP would certainly like governments to take the lead in achieving sustainable fisheries but in many cases they simply don't have the resources at present to manage their own industry. In the long-term, effective government regulation of fishing and fish farming is the only permanent solution but industry has a huge role in creating the conditions for that to happen.