Global tuna industry focus on social responsibility & sustainability

INFOFISH TUNA 2016 conference stresses the importance of social sustainability on the seafood agenda – an event summary by Juliette Tunstall, IPNLF Comms Coordinator
Minister Shainee accepts Appreciation Awards at the TUNA 2016 Conference, Bangkok

Recent weeks have been busy for team-IPNLF, with key calendar events like the International Coastal Tuna Business Forum (ICTBF) and Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) meeting happening in quick succession. Emily Howgate and I (from IPNLF’s office in London) hit the road for the InfoFish TUNA 2016 conference, a biennial event hosted in Bangkok. Over 400 major players from the tuna supply chain gathered to discuss the key theme of social responsibility towards global sustainability. Following recent media revelations bringing to the fore some of the abhorrent human rights abuses within the seafood industry, it was imperative that these topics were the focal point of the discussion at this event held in Thailand’s capital and sponsored by the Tuna Thai Industry Association (TTIA). I feel it is safe to say that since the first Infofish TUNA conference (much before my time!), the agenda-landscape has shifted, and today social and environmental sustainability issues are at the centre of panel and post-session discussion.

Partner recognition

To open the conference, Dr Mohamed Shainee, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture for the Republic of the Maldives, was presented with the Infofish Appreciation Award to honour the Maldivian pole-and-line fishery efforts towards a sustainable tuna industry. It was humbling to see the hard work of the Maldives (our partner and one of the leading global suppliers of one-by-one tuna) recognised before the international delegation. In Minister Shainee’s speech to the delegation he explained the social benefits of one-by-one fisheries, and highlighted the role of the fisheries in the Maldivian cultural identity. He also spoke about the importance of collaboration for sustainability, particularly in reference to the poignant proposals that were on the table at the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) meetings that took place simultaneously in La Réunion [review the IOTC outcomes here].

Social spotlight on one-by-one

IPNLF International Coordinating Director, Emily Howgate, was invited to speak at the second session about one-by-one tuna supply challenges and market demands. Emily (one of only a few female panellists – let’s raise women’s voices!) explained the environmental and social benefits that are associated with the global one-by-one tuna market. It was a key opportunity to champion the often-overshadowed social importance of the one-by-one fisheries we work with, including higher employment, cultural identity and community cohesion. In line with our vision and mission, IPNLF want to see coastal communities associated with one-by-one fisheries thrive; and going forward - with Dr Alice Miller at the helm of social research and programmes – we will be working to further improve research into social attributes and embarking on a social standards pilot in the Maldivian pole-and-line fishery.

A rallying cry

After bringing delegates up to speed on IPNLF’s work supporting sustainability in the tuna supply chain, Emily addressed a common complaint that we IPNLF-ers often hear… ‘But there’s not enough one-by-one tuna to meet the demand!’. By informing the delegates of the range of IPNLF-projects (supported by our Member organisations) that improve the supply of sustainable one-by-one tuna, Emily issued a ‘rallying cry’ to tuna businesses – inviting them to join us in making change happen. This message resonated with many of the points made during speakers during the presentations over the course of the day, particularly Andy Hickman (Responsible Sourcing Manager, Tesco) who expressed the UK retailer’s proactive role in responding to the growing consumer demand for sustainable tuna by supplying 100% pole-and-line tuna in their own-brand products. Andy explained that when it comes to tuna, sustainability should be a given - not a choice.

The final day’s panel session, which explored the role of eco-labels in the tuna industry, was somewhat exciting – due to the conversation it sparked amongst the floor. Delegates questioned the disparity between the industry’s definition of sustainability (often focussing on the environmental elements) and the level of inclusion of social requirements in fishery certification systems. It was important to debate the role of eco-labels both to champion the great work they do in driving sustainability initiatives and to make be sure that requirements meet the demands of the consumer market.

As well as providing IPNLF the invaluable opportunity to meet in person many colleagues who we partner and collaborate with internationally, the conference introduced us to many new faces at the IPNLF exhibition booth - a perfect platform to network with stakeholders, and spread the word about the work we are doing to develop and support sustainable one-by-one fisheries. We also formally welcomed a new member to our Board of Trustees, Lida Pet-Soede, who joined a convivial networking dinner with our Member organisations

I was encouraged by what I learnt about the global efforts towards a more responsible tuna industry – but it was clear to me that, as a whole, the supply chain still has a long way to go to ensure it is safe and sustainable. Conferences like TUNA2016 provide an essential forum for IPNLF to reach out to more networks that share our vision to see coastal communities and the seas that depend upon them thrive. As well as affirming existing relations with our supply chain Members, these events enable us to connect with new business and build partnerships with those keen to enhance and strengthen the supply of sustainable one-by-one caught tuna. Learn more about our Membership network and how to join us here.