Event Summary: Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability Forum

The Center for Strategic and International Studies Stephenson Ocean Security Project and Human Rights Initiative held the Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability Forum with FishWise on Friday, September 15, 2023. The forum brought together sectoral experts, government representatives, industry leaders, and civil society stakeholders to reflect on the progress made in adopting comprehensive electronic Catch Documentation and Traceability programs and the future steps to support legal and sustainable fisheries. This event summary provides an overview of the major themes presented at the forum.

The forum included remarks from government officials and activists to emphasize the overarching reach of the problem. Congressman Jared Huffman opened the event with remarks highlighting the need for traceability to understand how seafood caught in the ocean makes it to our dinner plates, so that consumers understand the sustainability challenges and human rights and labor risks  that accompany it. The need for stronger government seafood management systems and cooperation between government, industry, and civil society organizations was emphasized in vignettes by Farid Maruf, a leading activist for seafood traceability, and Ian Urbina, a journalist who has devoted his career to reporting on human rights abuses at sea. Both spoke about their personal experiences working with and reporting on the challenges of workers in the seafood industry. Their insights provided a better understanding of the situation at sea and the possible avenues for improvement.

Panel I: Achievements and Challenges of Seafood Traceability
Mariana Aziz, Jennifer Kane, Sara Lewis, and Jovice Mkuchu discussed the path to the successful implementation of traceability systems for stakeholders around the globe and outlined the current challenges to increasing government and seafood supply chain transparency. SALT has become a unifying force that started a conversation between the seafood supply chain stakeholders and actively promoted more sustainable practices in biodiversity conservation and food security. Government officials, the private sector, and civil society outlined the needs of the industry and discussed their current and future plans for cross-sector cooperation.

The cases of Mexico and Tanzania provided examples of practical applications of all the fruitful work of SALT over the last six years. Mexico is currently reviewing federal traceability regulation that would implement the traceability principles developed by SALT. The proposed regulations would both fulfil international obligations and help small artisanal fisheries compete with bigger companies. Likewise, the government of Tanzania has become a leading force in promoting seafood traceability, working toward digitizing the traceability process and making the necessary equipment available to small fisheries. The first step toward digitization has been piloting the program for octopus fisheries in the Kilwa District.

Moving forward, Mariana Aziz, Jennifer Kane, Sara Lewis, and Jovice Mkuchu expressed hope about spreading more sustainable fishing practices and improving the transparency and traceability of their countries’ seafood supply chains. By defining traceability and transparency further, Sara Lewis hopes to promote better understanding and pathways to implementation to promote aquatic diversity conservation and a more sustainable seafood industry.

Panel II: The Next Frontier of Seafood Traceability and Transparency
The second panel considered outstanding needs and broader sustainability opportunities, and how they fit into the national and international agenda of developing “blue economies.” Alexa Cole, Tony Long, Leo Pradela, and Laura Van Voorhees discussed how different stakeholders can contribute to the common goal of a sustainable and transparent seafood industry. Audience members raised questions about the integration of data between governments.

The panelists touched on data availability and interoperability between data sharing systems, labor practices and human rights abuses, and intergovernmental cooperation as priorities for further development of seafood traceability and transparency. They suggested that—after developing a common terminology and understanding of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing as a problem—the international community needs to create common goals to systematically eradicate it step by step. So far, successes have been regional and dispersed, and greater impact will require centralized coordination and active effort of all stakeholders.

Addressing human rights and labor law violations in the industry is a fundamental priority for the future. Laura Van Voorhees talked about the essential role of worker empowerment, such as free association and union formation, to promote transparent industry practices and punitive measures for labor law violations. Intra-industry communication between stakeholders is challenging for a variety of reasons, however, including language barriers and cultural differences. The panelists agreed on the importance of establishing common goals and shared terminology that is understandable to all stakeholders going forward. Leo Pradela recognized the challenges to implementing the common lexicon in the industry and highlighted the need for cooperation between the governments and market regulators to promote shared understanding.

All participants recognized the need to celebrate the current successes of SALT and the fundamental work that has been done to address issues in the seafood industry so far. SALT identified needs and unified expertise, resources, and ideas to amplify the program’s impact. Cooperation between governments, NGOs, industry, and regional communities became the key variable in generating conversation around the industry-wide need for reform and later practical implementation of the principles to further common goals. As Kate O'Rourke acknowledged, SALT has been on the forefront of the efforts from the very beginning stages of designing sustainable models and recommendations for the industry. The rising global demand for fish combined with environmental changes due to climate change necessitate more decisive action to preserve the biodiversity of our oceans. IUU continued to threaten conservation measures and food security. The economic, environmental, and social implications of the work SALT is doing are significant and will hopefully be further amplified by increased cooperation within the seafood industry and with the broader environmental sustainability community.

Interested stakeholders can continue the conversation through SALT at: https://fishwise.org/salt/.  

You can view the full event here

Director of Transparency Campaigns, Oceana in Mexico
Director, Office of International Affairs, Trade, and Commerce, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

Jennifer Kane

Senior Biodiversity and Natural Resources Advisor, Biodiversity Division, Center for Environment, Energy, and Infrastructure (EEI), U.S. Agency for International Development

Farid Maruf

Seafood Supply Chain Specialist, USAID Sustainable Fish Asia - Technical Support

Jovice Mkuchu

Ministry of Fisheries, Tanzania
Whitley Saumweber
Director, Stephenson Ocean Security Project, and Senior Associate (Non-Resident), Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

Laura Van Voorhees

Team Lead, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor