Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Greg Heilers headshot

Yes, ‘Pre-Competitive Collaboration’ Is a Thing: Just ask the Salmon Industry

Pre-competitive collaboration can help companies tackle simultaneous issues, including plastic pollution, climate change and fish stock depletion.
By Greg Heilers
Pre-Competitive Collaboration

In just six years, the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI) says it has helped 40 percent of the world’s farmed salmon market attain Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification. For comparison, Forest Stewardship Council certification has only achieved 16 percent market penetration within industries relying on forestry in 25 years, while Marine Stewardship Council certification has reached just 12 percent of wild caught fish during its 20 years of existence.

How has the Initiative achieved this unprecedented, rapid growth of ASC certification? Katherine Devine, director of business case development at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), recently issued a case study, The Business Case for Pre-Competitive Collaboration, which details the primary mechanism behind that growth: pre-competitive collaboration.

What is pre-competitive collaboration?

Many companies’ failures to make good on commitments to stakeholders can be attributed to going at it alone, even with the best of intentions. Not only does this present an overwhelming set of tasks, such a scenario is just plain unrealistic. No single company can hope to tackle the simultaneous issues that include plastic pollution, climate change, fish stock depletion and deforestation.

The solution goes beyond having third parties hold these companies accountable. Companies and their partners need to ensure that they can facilitate information sharing that in the end, will foster greater trust among the general public, while also showing the way to positive financial returns.

How the salmon industry succeeded by planning ahead

In 2013, the 17 salmon aquaculture companies who made up almost 70 percent of the world’s production launched GSI – and several years later, their efforts turned out to become a case study of how a pre-competitive collaborative effort can succeed. These companies made a bevy of financial and time commitments, which have resulted in 40 percent of the industry’s ASC certification.

GSI members have pledged that 100 percent of their farms will achieve ASC certification by 2020. Although at press time the industry that the total may only hit 75 percent by the end of this year, the industry’s progress, attributed to the collaborative efforts of the GSI, has been rapid compared with other industries.

How salmon industry stakeholders benefitted from a more proactive strategy

ASC certification has a significant impact on production, such as greater feed efficiency, safer and more efficient disease management, and in the end, a safer supply of seafood.

One challenge the salmon industry had to confront was the amount of energy attributed to the production of fish for human consumption. To that end, farmed fish operations has long been notorious for having a feed conversion rate ranging from 1.5 to one (as in the weight in kilograms of feed necessary to produce one pound of fish), and in some extreme cases, as high as four to one.

With feed companies, GSI members on average found that they were able to reduce the amount of fish meal use by 17 percent. The result was that feed conversion rate has declined to an industry average of 1.2 to one – and in some cases, an efficiency of one to one.

Meanwhile, the medicinal treatment of pests such as sea lice, long a risk for salmon farmers, has fallen by 50 percent among GSI members. That drop is in part due to members sharing information about non-medicinal treatments such as laser treatments, hydrogen peroxide baths – instead, tactics such as releasing wrasse a small fish that eats lice, helped eliminate the need for more toxic treatments. By pooling their knowledge, more salmon farming operations were able to incorporate safer treatments and ultimately, unlock greater efficacy.

The salmon industry’s success with pre-competitive collaboration could extend far beyond the fishing industry. The WWF is correct in assuming that other industries can harness this case study as an example of how various stakeholders can develop strong relationships, work closer together and achieve sustainability goals that will reap benefits including improved brand reputations and profit margins.

Image credit: WWF

Greg Heilers headshot

Greg Heilers writes on green business and sustainability for private clients and top publications. After graduating from university, he had the privilege to learn from opportunities in France, Palestine, Scotland, Guatemala and the USA. Today, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and enjoys any chance he gets to garden or hike.

Read more stories by Greg Heilers