Taking Stock: How Sustainable is Canada’s Seafood?

After 10 years of working with nearly everyone involved in the Canadian seafood supply chain, we decided it was time to take an in-depth look at the current Canadian landscape of sustainable seafood. Continue reading

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Boston or Bust: A look into the Boston Seafood Show

The Boston Seafood Show is huge. As North America’s largest seafood trade exposition, this year held over 1,200 exhibits, and attracted an estimated 30,000 attendees representing over 100 countries and myself and another SeaChoice staff were there to soak it all in. Continue reading

Expanding Horizons- Complexity and Scale at the 2012 International Seafood Summit

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Guest post by Rob Johnson, SeaChoice Representative from Ecology Action Centre

For the first time in its ten-year history, SeaWeb’s International Seafood Summit made it’s way to Asia last month. Under the banner of “Evolving Solutions for New Horizons” leaders across the global seafood industry and conservation community gathered in Hong Kong to grapple with complicated and pressing issues surrounding seafood sustainability. Notably lacking in representation, however were actual fishermen- the small-scale operators that make their livelihood bringing sustainable quality seafood to market.

What started out ten years ago as a small meeting of NGOs has shifted into a global seafood industry-focused forum- a platform and catalyst for social change through advancing a growing sustainable seafood movement. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for leading North American conservation organizations, sixteen of which have partnered to pursue a Common Vision for Environmentally Sustainable Seafood and work together as the Conservation Alliance for Sustainable Solutions.

I traveled from Nova Scotia where I work as part of the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) Marine program. The EAC is part of The Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, as well as a member organization of SeaChoice – a comprehensive national seafood program that has been involved in many past summits. SeaChoice works to help Canadian businesses and consumers make the most ocean-friendly seafood choices to support the long-term health of marine ecosystems and coastal communities.SeafoodSummitRemarks2012

The keynote address, led by WorldFish Centre’s Stephen Hall, was a marked departure from the usual western-styled focus on species-specific fisheries management. Hall instead emphasized a more holistic theory of change highlighting the need for increased contributions to food security and economic development. His perspective helped elevate the sustainable seafood dialogue to include more social, political and economic factors.  For me, working at the EAC-where our program areas encompass the gamut of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture issues, from fisheries policy, marine spatial planning, sustainable seafood, and coastal livelihoods- this was a welcome frame.

Because the panel discussions and workshops were often dominated by large seafood businesses and international conservation organizations, I couldn’t help but notice the missing voice from sustainable small-scale fisheries. On a couple of occasions I saw a comment or question by a fisherman- borne out of direct on-the-water knowledge- that silenced a room full of seafood professionals with straightforwardness and sensibility.

Eco-certification was the focus of a significant amount of the Summit discussion. As major retailers in North America have partnered with conservation organizations and committed to sustainable seafood policies, certification has become the key message many are using to convey responsibility and sustainability. All the talk of large industrial fishery certifications made me think about the truly sustainable small-scale fisheries that fly under the radar of these schemes- like Nova Scotia’s Chedabucto Bay Trap-Caught Shrimp. Lost in the complexity, perhaps, was the simple adage of knowing who your fisherman is, what they catch, where and when, as the real assurance of sustainability.

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Sustainable seafood is impossibly large and complex – from the international financial markets that fuel the bustle of Hong Kong to the quiet solitude of a lone clam digger working the sand along the Bay of Fundy.  On the long flight home I was left wondering, how can we broaden the engagement in progressive debate, discussion and meaningful collaborations across the seafood industry? How can we all work together to achieve the goal of widespread and lasting change on the water?

In the end, eco-certifications are but one tool in the toolbox, and let’s not forget, these are voluntary standards and schemes that are simply proliferating in the vacuous space left by lack of government regulation on seafood labeling the type of fish, where it’s from, and how it was caught or farmed. Then again, small-scale fishermen and aquaculturists have always been in the best position to know and convey this information…

A Delicious Revolution?

by Sadie Beaton

It was unlike any conference I’ve attended. I arrived in stuffy conference duds only to discover that the 2012 Canadian Chef’s Congress was splayed across a wide sunny field. The warm, casual setting was designed to connect chefs with farmers, fishers, and foodies around the idea of a common Canadian food culture… and more literally, around a giant roasting pig, which plumed delicious smoke all day.

Amid the many opportunities to eat and drink were a series of workshops exploring the role chefs can play in advocating for and nurturing a more sustainable food system. I was encouraged by how engaged and keen many of the delegates seemed to be about fomenting ‘a delicious revolution’. What remains to be seen, of course, is how chefs will carry out the insurgency now that the foodie honeymoon is over and the hangover of our broken food system has presumably hit under the harsh lights of restaurant kitchens across the nation.

The ViewIn a breezy beach house overlooking the Bay of Fundy, representatives from SeaChoice, OceanWise, Off the Hook CSF, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Chedabucto Bay Trap Shrimp fishery introduced a workshop on seafood provenance and sustainability. A discussion ensued that could have easily turned into its own two-day summit. Closed-containment salmon, community supported fisheries, trap shrimp, hand-dug clams, and the potential for a local dive-caught scallop fishery right in the Bay were all explored…. and sampled.

The marketing success of British Columbia’s spot prawn fishery was particularly enchanting. These shrimp, caught by small-scale vessels using low-impact trap gear, were long exported to far-off Asian markets. In the last six or so years, however, Vancouver chefs- working with NGOs- played a pivotal role in creating a lively local market. By building excitement around the prawn’s seasonality and provenance at festivals and on chic restaurant menus, chefs worked together to foster a local culture of connection around the now hotly anticipated BC spot prawn season.

Alen Newell, a Nova Scotia trap shrimp fisherman, listened with interest. He painted a captivating picture of Chedabucto Bay’s small-scale trap shrimp fishery for the delegates, who were fascinated to learn about this eight boat fleet that set their traps as little as ten minutes off shore. While the trappers too have finally secured a decent export price for their top quality haul- their shrimp have not yet garnered the same local recognition.

After a delicious tasting, prepared by Chef Chris Whittaker of the BC Chef’s Table Society, delegates lamented how Nova Scotians- Canadians even- have been unable celebrate these amazing shrimp. There was palpable enthusiasm in the room about helping to grow a domestic market for Chedabucto Bay trap shrimp and several chefs clamoured to get their hands on the shrimp when the season starts later this fall.

I was inspired by the genuine fervor swirling along with the pig smoke throughout the congress. There was an air of decadence, of course, but not depravity. Between bites and sips, delegates spoke earnestly about their responsibility to nurture and create a sustainable food culture. All of the delegates took home a ‘2012 Chef’s Declaration for Healthy Oceans’, recognizing chefs power to help shift the demand for ocean-friendly seafood, their ability to influence consumer attitudes and choices, and… crucially, that the time to take action is NOW.

I’m excited to see tantalizing descriptions of Nova Scotia’s winter gem, the Chedabucto Bay trap-caught shrimp, on menus from Halifax to Toronto and beyond. And I’ll swell with pride so when it is finally recognized as part of what could one day be a rich, sustainable and diverse local food culture. …Suffice to say, the congress left me feeling optimistic that ‘delicious revolution’ is possible. And that’s not just the booze talking.