Global Seafood Assurances
Global Seafood Assurances

Author: Katy Hladki

First Vessel to Receive Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard (RFVS) Certificate

In January 2021 Australian Longline Fishing became the first fishing company in the world to have a vessel certified to the Global Seafood Assurance Responsible Fishing Vessel standard. The vessel in question is Antarctic Discovery, a 55-meter longliner with a crew of 20-25, plus two observers.

We asked Malcolm McNeill, Managing Director of Australian Longline Fishing, to tell us how they got involved and why it felt important to gain a vessel certification.

“I first learnt of the developing Responsible Fishing Vessel certification process when I attended the Seafood Summit in Seattle back in 2017 and while we expressed an interest in being ‘guinea pigs’ and getting involved at that time, I understand that it was too early in the development stages. Three years down the track and I read in the media that the Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard was starting to be rolled out internationally hence why Marty (Marty  Johnson, Vessel Coordinator) was tasked to reach out to Global Seafood Assurances.”

Why did you want to get involved?

“Being an ex-fisherman, it can sometimes be easy to say “that’s how I used to do things back then, so therefore you should be able to do the same now”. However, the world has changed a lot so every now and then it is worthwhile to re-calibrate the thought process and ask ourselves questions, be they about how we fish or who we recruit to do that;

  • Are we doing it safely?
  • Are we doing the right thing? 
  • Are we doing it fairly?

The folks on our vessels are experienced crew that work hard and are well respected – many of them have been working with us for many years, but that’s not a reason to get complacent. Irrespective of how well we know we pay and look after our crew there is still a perception of low pay, slave labor and poor living standards on fishing boats. There’s been a lot of press about that around the world. We have always tried to ensure that we are doing the right thing, but what we say we do often doesn’t hold much weight in the public eye, they need proof. There have been many reports of terrible recruiting and treatment in fisheries so it is hard for folks to trust.”

What do you see as the benefit of having your vessel certified?

“When the RFVS certification process was rolled out we saw it as a good way forward, not just to tick the boxes of what we are doing right, but also to bring ourselves in line (or even exceed) with internationally accepted best crewing practices irrespective of the nationality of the crew.

Such certification will enable us to provide our customers with independent assurance that we, as their supplier, engage, employ, pay, and treat all our crew equally, fairly and further that they are trained in safety. This is all in accordance with the immigration and employment regulations of Australia, when needed, as well as the global conventions that have been agreed for the best welfare of fishing vessel crews. The audit process itself highlighted a couple of aspects that we were a bit “relaxed” on, but these were easily rectified which meant a little bit more comfort and security to the current crew. It also provided us with the template of how we should engage and treat all crew now and into the future.

Antarctic Discovery

There are several benefits to the company in getting all our vessels certified. Most obvious is in the marketplace by customers and consumers. They value the fact that they are purchasing Toothfish from a Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery where we care deeply about the best management which will ensure healthy oceans and fish for tomorrow – and that it has been caught on welfare and safety-focused vessels where each crew member is treated fairly and with respect.

Most importantly, all of us in the company can hold our heads up and confidently say that we are doing the right thing. We’re doing it safely and we’re doing it fairly, and we’ve got a respected international organization  providing us with the certificate to prove it.”

We asked Marty Johnson (Vessel Coordinator) How was the audit experience?

“We spent time working with Global Seafood Assurances to make sure we understood exactly what we needed to do. I’d say getting properly prepared is critical – and it also helps tidy up some of those areas that might have become more relaxed. The certification body (Lloyds Register) worked closely with us to time when the vessel would be in harbour (she was audited in New Zealand) and set timings for crew interviews which were closely adhered to. I couldn’t be there so we did a lot of the process remotely, but it worked well even though I couldn’t be on the vessel at the time.

“We can be away up to a few months and were getting ready for our next trip.  We have a crew of 20-25, plus two observers, and everyone has a job to do in that preparation so timing was critical.  I’m really pleased for the company and the crew that we now have  – we’re the first to have! – this certification. We’ve booked in the next vessel to be audited in a couple of months from now and we’ll be even better prepared.”

If you have any questions or would like to know how to apply for the Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard please contact RFVS@seafoodassurances.org

First vessel to achieve Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard announced

Global Seafood Assurances have announced that the first vessel to achieve the Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard (RFVS) has been awarded the RFVS certificate by Lloyds Register. The vessel, Antarctic Discovery, belongs to Australian Longline Fishing, operating in a Patagonian and Antarctic Toothfish fishery certified by the Marine Stewardship Certified.

The 56m vessel carries a crew of 20-25, plus two observers, for trips into very challenging waters, often for a couple of months at a time.

We were very keen to get independent, credible, certification that we recruit and care for our crews in accordance with global conventions. Our customers need that assurance. Now we can demonstrate that we are caring for both the fish and the people who harvest them, and we all feel good about that” commented Malcolm McNeill, Managing Director Australian Longline Fishing.  

Preparation and timing were cited as key to a successful audit by Marty Johnson, Vessel Coordinator. The vessel was in dock in New Zealand being prepared for its next trip, while Marty was in Hobart, where the company is based. Audit days and crew interviews were carefully planned so as not to detract from those preparations.

Spending time discussing what we needed to prepare, with Global Seafood Assurance and with Lloyds Register, helped make sure we used audit time efficiently. We needed to sharpen up in a few areas, but that was a useful exercise in itself” said Marty “We plan to have a second vessel audited in a few months and will be even better prepared

Global Seafood Assurances currently have 12 audit pilots underway or in preparation covering very different types of vessels, operations and locations around the world from Russia to the Philippines, Africa to the UK.

I am delighted that the first vessel to be awarded under GSA’s Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard, operates in a MSC-certified fishery.  Whilst the MSC standard is focused on environmental criteria, we have long recognized the industry-wide importance of strengthening workers’ protection and welfare at sea. MSC participated in the development process for the RFVS, and very much welcome this and other initiatives which seek to verify and improve labor conditions and crew welfare at the vessel level through independent verification processes” commented Rupert Howes, CEO Marine Stewardship Council  “That vessels already participating in the MSC program, are part of the first wave to undergo RFVS audits, is a huge credit to their skippers and crews and testament to the fact that many of our partners set the benchmark for best practice across the global fishing industry.”

Learn more about the audit process in our blog post featuring Malcolm McNeill, Managing Director of Australian Longline Fishing. https://blog.seafoodassurances.org/

Notes to Editors

  • Australian Longline Fishing has been operating since 1995 and is registered in Hobart Tasmania. It is the sole Australian operator in Antarctic waters and has licences to fish for both Patagonian and Antarctic Toothfish. Vessels work to the sustainability standards set by CCAMLR and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).  Toothfish sourced from the Southern Ocean is Marine Stewardship Council certified and also considered a ‘Best Choice’ by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.  Australian Longline Fishing currently operates two longliners with a third embarking on its inaugural trip in January 2020. The first vessel to be certified was the 56 metre Antarctic Discovery, registered in Hobart. It carries a crew of 20-25 plus two observers. https://www.australianlongline.com.au admin@australianlongline.com.au   
  • Global Seafood Assurances (GSA) is an independent, not-for-profit organization.  The GSA vision is to provide high quality, end to end, fully traceable, assurance for seafood, supporting the sustainable development of global production while protecting people and planet. GSA works with partners where standards already exist, and creates transparent and credible standards to fill gaps where needed. The Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard was developed by GSA through a transparent and rigorous two-year process. It enables fishing operations to provide assurance of decent working conditions and operational best practice from catch to shore. http://www.seafoodassurances.org/Home/Index  RFVS@seafoodassurances.org

Global Seafood Assurance (GSA) today release their white paper ‘Worker Voice on Fishing Vessels’

November 23rd, 2020

Funded by the David & Lucile Packard Foundation research for the paper began in June 2020. The intent was to collate meanings and understanding of the terms Worker Voice and Grievance Mechanism as they relate to those working on fishing vessels around the world, as well as highlight examples of mechanism in place, projects and pilots.

We want to know that crews working on Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard (RFVS) certified vessels have safe, effective, access to third party advice and resolution mechanisms. We can only do that by building consensus on what best practice looks like; what we can expect now and what needs to improve” commented Melanie Siggs, Director, Global Seafood Assurances  “Right now that consensus doesn’t exist and this project was the critical starting point”

Key Traceability were contracted to lead the research. An expert Advisory Group which included NGOs, retailers and consultants on social issues in fishing was recruited. Covid 19 restrictions prevented in-country outreach around the world, but rigorous desk based research was combined with 1:1 interviews and a survey that was extended in 9 languages and benefited from the recruitment of local champions to deepen regional opportunity to participate.

“We very much welcome this important contribution to the ongoing work to ensure the human rights of people in the fishing sector are respected, regardless of where in the world they are working. There is still a lot of work to do to ensure that fishers around the world have effective grievance mechanisms, but this report is critical to building our understanding of what is currently in place, and what we as businesses can do to support improvement” said Andy Hickman, Head of Human Rights (Food and Procurement), Tesco, and Project Advisory Group member “Thank you to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Global Seafood Assurances for their support for this work, and thank you to all those who contributed to the study”.

The project found that there is an increasing awareness of the term Worker Voice, but less experience or knowledge of mechanisms for fishing vessel workers.   It was noted that most relevant projects have been initiated and developed by Civil Society Organisations and private companies, there is currently a lack of fishing industry specific government led initiatives. Most of these initiatives have taken place in EEZs and few have gone to scale. Further that, often, authorities are not trusted by fishers to resolve grievances effectively, especially for migrant fishers.

You can download the full report here

https://seafoodassurances.org/ProgramStandards/RFVS#workervoice

“Much of what we documented from the research, interviews and the surveys, wasn’t a surprise, but it was important we found evidence. For example, it was quickly apparent that there is a lack of published literature explaining what a grievance mechanism on fishing vessels looks like” commented Iain Pollard who led the research team at Key Traceability “Also that grievance procedures on vessels are rarely transparent (unless they are reviewed independently) so understanding their ‘fairness’ in reaching a resolution or ‘protection of the fisher’ is challenging. The next step of building consensus to address these challenges is really important now”

“Power imbalance is massive on fishing vessels; you need a safe form of reference on the vessel as well as a support network and trusted authority on land.” Quote from interviews/surveys on the Worker Voice on Fishing Vessel report, 2020

The report recommends that work to build consensus of what Worker Voice and Grievance Mechanisms should look like, what should be expected and how to measure effectiveness of these mechanisms is critical. Such work should provide outcomes for a wide range of stakeholders from assurance providers to buyers, regulators to fishing vessel owners and their crews. Further, to that end, multi lingual, accessible education and training will be essential for these different groups. It was noted that considerable amount of input in this first project was out of scope, but important to take forward to a project that would build consensus.

“Grievance mechanism is a channel to make claims anonymously. Worker Voice is the expression of workers on their rights and conditions. Worker empowerment is how workers can come together to express their voice and resolve their grievances.” Quote from interviews/surveys on the Worker Voice on Fishing Vessel report, 2020

Editorial notes

Global Seafood Assurances (GSA) is an independent, not-for-profit organization.  The GSA vision is to provide high quality, end to end, fully traceable, assurance for seafood, supporting the sustainable development of global production while protecting people and planet. GSA works with partners where standards already exist, and creates transparent and credible standards to fill gaps where needed. The Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard was developed by GSA through a transparent and rigorous two year process. It enables fishing operations to provide assurance of decent working conditions and operational best practice from catch to shore  http://www.seafoodassurances.org/Home/Index 

Email melanie@seafoodassurances.org

Key Traceability (KT) is a company based in England and with an office in Taiwan set up to “Unlock Seafood Supply Chains” that specialises in offering independent sustainability advice to the seafood sector globally. KT have been in business for six years and are trusted by industry as well as NGOs to carry out fishing vessel or aquaculture social audits, traceability, IUU and fishery assessments, Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs). With a full‐time staff of nine and supported by an international network of consultants and social auditors we can work on any fishery or aquaculture in the world to report on social, economic, or environmental conditions related to seafood.

Email i.pollard@keytraceability.com

Global Seafood Assurances Stakeholder Update December 1, 2020 11 am EST

Global Seafood Assurances (GSA) is an independent, not-for-profit organization seeking to provide comprehensive, credible seafood supply chain assurances while addressing gaps in seafood certification. Those assurances will flow from third-party certification programs that ensure your seafood supplies meet strict environmental, social and food safety standards.

In May 2020,following a two year transparent and inclusive process Global Seafood Assurances, working with the UK Seafish Industry Authority, completed the development of the Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard. Now that the standard is complete, a new chapter of work begins. 

For the first time, Global Seafood Assurances is holding a stakeholder update meeting to share information and developments about our work, including the Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard. Topics for the meeting will include updates on auditor training for RFVS, pilots, benchmarking and recognition, our Worker Voice project, and marketplace engagement with the standard, as well as our plans for the coming year.

The meeting will be held virtually and is open to anyone in the public that is interested in learning more about Global Seafood Assurances.

Time: Tuesday, December 1, 2020 from 11am -12 pm EST

Presented By: Global Seafood Assurances

Presenters: Wally Stevens, Executive Director, Global Seafood Assurances Melanie Siggs, European Director, Global Seafood Assurances

Language: English

Cost: No Charge

Can’t attend the live session? Register now and receive a complimentary recording along with detailed information after the event.

https://aquaculturealliance.clickmeeting.com/gsa-stakeholder-update/register?_ga=2.43053669.1119777789.1603825902-1796184961.1603825902

Steaming Ahead with the Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

In May 2020, following a two year transparent and inclusive process Global Seafood Assurances, working with the UK Seafish Industry Authority, completed the development of the Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard. Completing a standard with due diligence and appropriate governance is an arduous process of research, consultation, and third-party oversight, but when the standard is complete a new chapter of work begins. The standard needs to be piloted to test how well the proposed audit works, testing the indicators and metrics can be measured and recorded in different examples. Auditors need to be trained in the new standard to ensure they fully understand the components, the intentions, how to measure them and that the quality and integrity of audits is consistent.

With GSA’s commitment to ensure the Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard is globally appropriate these pilots, and the training, need to take place around the world. In 2020 we had a new, never before experienced challenge, a global pandemic that would prevent auditors gathering for training or going out to audit so GSA have had to find new ways to make sure the standard, and thus assurance of crew welfare good practice, keeps moving forward.

Why are fishing vessel crew standards important?

In the last decade, an increasing number of reports have vividly documented modern slavery and crew welfare atrocities on board fishing vessels around the world. While it is critical to manage fisheries responsibly to ensure healthy stocks and ecosystems assurance of that management alone is no longer sufficient and must be married with assurance that the crews working to prosecute those fisheries are recruited and treated fairly, and safely.

Several global conventions have provided frameworks to underpin the development of third party audited standards to help address this and support change. Standards may not solve all issues, but can raise awareness, expectation, share knowledge and education and, importantly, provide a tool that can be used to help fishing businesses understand, prepare and deliver seafood that demonstrates, independently, that the people working on the fishing vessels were recruited appropriately, are trained, are working safely, provided with rest and food, paid appropriately and more.

Ally Dingwall Joins Global Seafood Assurances Board

Ally Dingwall, Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager at J Sainsbury.

J Sainsbury plc and the newly formed Global Seafood Assurances (GSA) are delighted to announce that Ally Dingwall, aquaculture and fisheries manager at Sainsbury’s, has joined the GSA board of directors, effective immediately.

The vision of GSA, which was launched in April 2018, is to create a single platform for comprehensive, full supply chain seafood assurance — farmed and wild — with compatible, block chain-style traceability. All standards in the GSA portfolio will be of the highest quality and governance, meeting internationally recognized benchmarking systems. The standards may be owned by GSA, managed by GSA or working in partnership with GSA. Currently, the focus is on filling the gaps in assurance. 

“It’s exciting to see what the future holds for providing assurance at seafood’s point of sale — assurance of environmental, socially ethical, safe, traceable seafood, whether farmed or wild,” said Dingwall. “Sainsbury’s prides itself on being a retailer that is paving the way in this area, recognised as the UK’s best sustainable seafood supermarket for the seventh year running. 

“I’m delighted to be working with GSA to help make their vision a reality — developing a single reference point to provide the suite of assurances needed, with compatible and robust traceability,” he added.

Currently, the priority for GSA is the development of Version 2 of the Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme standards, which will build on the experience of the UK sector and reflect future industry needs across global supply chains. GSA will take over the standard from May 2020. The other priority is the GSA Seafood Processing Standards for both wild and farmed seafood, which are currently being piloted and will soon be put to market.

“The UK retail sector have been leaders in embracing seafood assurance. Sainsbury’s, with Ally, have led that charge,” said Wally Stevens, GSA executive director. “We’re thrilled to have him bring that expertise to the GSA board to help build an organization able to offer a portfolio of credible seafood standards across wild and farmed supply chains. We believe that will benefit everyone from producers and harvesters to consumers.”

About GSA
Global Seafood Assurance is a non-profit organization that has been created by, and with seed funding from, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA). It aims to provide end-to-end quality assurance for all seafood, by creating standards where gaps exist, working with other standard holders where possible, and collaborating to build robust traceability for all. It benefits from 20 years of experience of the GAA and Best Aquaculture Practice standards, together with more than 40 staff and state-of-the-art supply chain assurance technology.

About J Sainsbury’s plc
Sainsbury’s commitment to helping customers live well for less has been at the heart of what we do since 1869. Today that means making our customers’ lives better and easier every day by offering great quality and service at fair prices – across food, clothing, general merchandise and financial services – whenever and wherever they want to shop. 

As our customers’ lives change, so will our business. Sainsbury’s acquired Home Retail Group, the owner of Argos and Habitat, on 2 September 2016, creating one of the UK’s leading food, general merchandise and clothing retailers – a multi-product, multi-channel business with fast delivery networks. J Sainsbury plc operates over 600 Sainsbury’s supermarkets, more than 800 Sainsbury’s Local convenience stores and over 800 Argos locations – almost 2,300 locations in total.  In addition, we have online channels for food, clothing, general merchandise and financial services. We sell over 90,000 products and employ over 185,000 colleagues across the UK and Ireland. The iconic Habitat furniture and home furnishings brand operates out of five stand-alone stores in London, Leeds, Brighton and Edinburgh as well as 12 Mini Habitats in Sainsbury’s supermarkets.   

Sainsbury’s Bank offers accessible financial services products such as credit cards, insurance, travel money, mortgages and personal loans that reward customers. 

In His Own Words: Wally Stevens Talks Global Seafood Assurances

Thursday, 7 June 2018

At Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium, on April 25, Global Seafood Assurances (GSA) — a new, independent, not-for-profit organization established to meet marketplace and public expectations for assurances in aquaculture and fisheries — made its official debut. With about 120 seafood professionals in attendance, Wally Stevens, executive director of the Global Aquaculture Alliance, which spearheaded the formation of the organization and will initially fund its operations, emphasized the need to address gaps in certification, in both aquaculture and fisheries. Six weeks later, Stevens continues to spend a lot of his time raising awareness of and building support for GSA worldwide. Response to the concept of GSA has been mostly positive, especially from the marketplace. However, in an industry swimming in a sea of acronyms, the launch of GSA hasn’t come without questions and curiosity. In a one-on-one interview in early June, Stevens addressed a handful of questions to further clarify the approach of GSA. He reiterated it is intended to represent critical assurances to the marketplace; it is not intended to result in the harmonization of existing certification standards. Qualifying certification programs will continue to operate separately, he said, though there’s potential for realizing efficiencies through combining administrative- and service-oriented tasks such as traceability technology, data analysis, certification body management and accounting.

What are people saying about the concept of GSA? What are you hearing the most?

There were actually two comments that I heard that reinforced the concept. One is the potential for [one set of] seafood processing standards as opposed to multiple certifications, and that principally came out of Southeast Asia. The amount of time that people spend preparing for [audits] is onerous, and the [GSA] processing standards are viewed as an opportunity to get beyond that. They are the first and only seafood-specific processing plants standards for both farmed and wild seafood that address environmental responsibility, social responsibility, animal health and food safety.]

The other is the potential to collaborate on traceability and whatever form or shape that takes, and for GSA to convene people in that space and maybe come up with an industry-wide solution. Overall, we’re getting very specific feedback. That’s a sign in itself that we’re headed down the right path, because these are immediate solutions to challenges that people face.

Conversely, are there misperceptions about the concept of GSA that you would like to clarify?

Yes, one is the sense that GSA will create new standards where credible standards currently exist. That’s not going to happen. GSA is interested in seeing credible standards exist through the full production chain in aquaculture and fisheries. Two is the sense that GSA will lead to harmonization. There is concern that GSA will monopolize or in some way influence the work of credible certification programs. That’s not going to happen, either. GSA will represent the work of credible programs to the extent they can be linked together in the supply chain.

What puts GAA in a position to spearhead the formation of GSA and initially fund its operations?

It speaks to the evolution of GAA. We’re in a position now to launch such a concept, [but] we wouldn’t have been in a position 10 years ago to do this. We would like to think that GAA is a trusted authority in the aquaculture space and that it advocates for responsible practices and the growth of the industry, and over time we have seen the marketplace respond to that. We have the same interest for fisheries that we do for aquaculture in that at the end of the day we want people to eat more seafood. GSA is not intended to influence consumers directly. Its interest is to assure the marketplace that its seafood supply is as free of risk as possible [whether it relates to] the environment, workers, animals or food safety.

Speaking of workers, how will GSA address the need to improve social conditions aboard fishing vessels as well as cooperate with existing initiatives that are trying to do the same?

It has begun with the memorandum of understanding that GAA signed with Seafish on April 24 to manage its Responsible Fishing Scheme.

How would you compare the emergence of GAA’s Best Aquaculture Practices certification program 15 years ago to the emergence of GSA today? Are there any comparisons?

I think there are analogies. BAP was created out of industry acknowledging that they own issues relative to what they’re doing, and that we need to come up with solutions based on credible science. At the end of the day, we need to come up with solutions. We don’t need to come up with the dialogue. And BAP is a product and example of that. I think we have the skill sets at GAA that relate to the work that needs to be done to address the gaps in fisheries certification and align with credible certification programs.

Our interests are in defining best practices in aquaculture and fisheries as opposed to defending existing practices. We’re looking to appreciate the people who are doing the right thing, and that appreciation takes the form of certification. It’s ‘defining the industry.’

What do you mean by ‘defining the industry?’

It’s positive affirmation of the work that’s underway. It’s not always perfect work, but it’s an acceptance that the industry and its stakeholders are on a journey of doing things in a more responsible way.