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Seafood Companies Bolster the President's Fight Against IUU Fishing


By Mary Beth Taylor

Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration set its sights on preserving America’s seafood and the global supply chain by launching the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud. The global companies that put seafood on the tables of millions of Americans have been a part of this important effort to fight back against IUU activities. The Task Force has identified many popular species of seafood on its proposed list of the most “at risk” species for illegal fishing and seafood fraud – including, recently, tuna.

Fortunately, many of the world’s tuna companies are already taking proactive steps aimed at combating IUU fishing within the industry. These companies are part of an innovative public-private partnership that has committed the world’s leading seafood companies to transparency and accountability by way of 21 conservation measures and commitments aimed at improving the sustainability of the world’s tuna fisheries and the greater marine ecosystem – including commitments designed to combat IUU fishing.

Compliance and transparency are basic tenets of business operations the world over. Companies of every shape and size – from financial institutions to energy firms to consumer packaged goods companies and more – serve their customers and the general public best when they put a premium on transparency and accountability. At the most basic level, companies are legally bound to comply with numerous national and international environmental regulations. And many businesses take the next step by publishing an annual report on their corporate sustainability and responsibility activities (CSR).

But how many businesses are publicly committing to an additional layer of responsibility and accountability by voluntarily adhering to conservation-aimed resolutions that impact their day-to-day operations? And how many of those companies are not only opening their books to independent auditors to verify such commitments, but also reporting the results of that audit on an annual basis? The 26 tuna companies that participate in the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) are doing just that – and raising the bar for other industry participants.

In 2009, acclaimed scientists, leaders in industry and environmental champions launched ISSF based on shared concerns about the future of tuna fisheries and a desire to do something about it – together. In just six short years, these companies have become pioneers when it comes to science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting ecosystem health. Led by a diverse Board of Directors representing the NGO community, scientists, industry and others, these businesses took an important step in 2014 when they began reporting adherence to these commitments – many of which were developed with the fight against IUU activities in mind.

The results of the most recent audit detailed that 79.8 percent of ISSF participating companies operated in full conformance across these measures in 2014, 19 percent demonstrating minor non-conformance and 1.2 percent in major non-conformance. Those numbers show room for improvement, but having the private sector engaged and willingly participating to make things better strengthens the efforts of others engaged in regulation, at-sea enforcement, policy and treaties. Such private sector engagement is the type of support that President Obama's IUU Task Force and similar government-led efforts need in order to succeed.

The issue of IUU fishing in the world’s oceans and fisheries is a hot topic now, and rightly so. As populations grow, fisheries are increasingly becoming an important source of food for many people, and engines of growth for many countries, particularly in the developing world. IUU fishing activities undermine fisheries management, deprive coastal communities of income, and create an uneven playing field for legitimate harvesters and businesses.

The draft principles for determining species at risk of IUU fishing and seafood fraud published by the Task Force present an opportunity to recognize those who are implementing best practices – and issue a challenge for those who are not to follow suit. ISSF has submitted several rounds of comments for the Task Force to review including in response to the latest action on at-risk species. We are pleased to see parallels between the principles of the Obama administration and the approach taken by ISSF in developing its conservation measures – actions such as vessel registration with RFMOs, catch data reporting, the listing of suppliers on ISSF’s ProActive Vessel Register, observer coverage, and supply chain transparency from vessel to plate (21 out of 24 ISSF participating companies demonstrated full compliance in their ability to trace tuna from capture to plate in the 2014 audit).

Our world is getting smaller, so it is more important than ever to make sure those involved in the tuna industry do all they can to ensure that consumers, retailers and the public have confidence that the tuna they buy is not the product of IUU fishing activities. With continuous improvement a constant goal, ISSF participating companies have set an example for other stakeholders in the industry in the important areas of transparency and compliance.

Image credit: Flickr/Dennis Jarvis

Mary Beth Taylor, J.D., is Vice President, Transparency & Compliance and General Counsel at the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation. She is a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional and a member of the Society for Corporate Compliance and Ethics.

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