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.
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?
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.
Global Seafood Assurances (GSA), a new, independent, not-for-profit organization established to meet marketplace and public expectations for assurances across the board in aquaculture and fisheries officially launched at Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium, on April 25. The Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) spearheaded the formation of the organization and will initially fund its operations.
The assurances which GSA will address relate to environmental responsibility, social responsibility, food safety and animal welfare for farm-raised and wild-caught seafood.
Those assurances will flow from third-party certification programs that have been benchmarked by a combination of the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI), Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and recognized social compliance programs. GSA will be open to any certification program that meets the benchmarking criteria above and that chooses to be a part of full supply-chain assurances for either farmed or wild seafood.
GSA has already begun to address a major gap in fisheries certification by signing a memorandum of understanding with Seafish (the United Kingdom’s Sea Fish Industry Authority) to manage its Responsible Fisheries Scheme (RFS) in the UK. GSA will also work with other fisheries stakeholders around the world to develop new vessel standards for social responsibility.
GSA is pleased with and will support the contemplated formation of the Global Fisheries Alliance (GFA) as it takes the lead role with developing international fishing vessel standards. The work of GSA with RFS program should serve to inform GFA on creating international vessel standards.
Additionally, the GSA Seafood Processing Standards will be ready to go to market — after a public comment period — as the first and only seafood-specific processing plants standards for both farmed and wild seafood. Based on the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) Seafood Processing Standards, the GSA Seafood Processing Standards are comprehensive in that they encompass all four pillars of responsibility — environmental, social, food safety and animal welfare.
It’s important to note that the work of GSA is not intended to result in harmonization of existing certification standards for aquaculture and fisheries but rather to represent critical assurances to the marketplace. Qualifying certification programs will continue to operate separately, though there’s the potential for realizing efficiencies through combining administrative- and service-oriented tasks such as traceability technology, data analysis, certification body management and accounting.
“The sum of the whole is bigger than the individual parts,” said Wally Stevens, who will be stepping away from his role as GAA’s executive director to lead GSA. “Currently, there are gaps in both aquaculture and fisheries certification, and the purpose of GSA is to fill those gaps and provide credible assurances to the marketplace that farmed and wild seafood is responsibly produced throughout the entire production chain. We need to fill the gaps while linking the various silos of certification together. What we need is comprehensive representation.”
Other needs that GSA will set out to address are improved traceability systems, cost containment through reduced audit duplication and outreach to smallholders. GSA’s objective is more credible assurances, more cooperative marketing and, ultimately, increased consumption of seafood, whether wild caught or farmed.
About GAA The Global Aquaculture Alliance is an international, nonprofit trade association dedicated to advancing environmentally and socially responsible aquaculture. Through the development of its Best Aquaculture Practices certification standards, GAA has become the leading standards-setting organization for aquaculture seafood.
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