Seafood Choices Alliance was established by SeaWeb in 2001 to galvanize and bring together the disparate elements and diverse approaches in a growing “seafood choices” movement in the United States. Following on the heels of the “Give Swordfish a Break” campaign, there seemed to be a need for an effort that could effectively coordinate the work of NGOs focusing on sustainable fisheries and healthy oceans. Ultimately, it became clear that the task was not just to bring NGOs together to talk about their work, but to bring business together with NGOs and others to work on solutions. Today, Seafood Choices connects multiple constituencies, with a focus on the conservation community and the seafood industry chain.
The premise behind our work is that the long-term health and viability of the ocean ecosystem depends squarely on the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture. Thus, it is in the best interest of everyone working to influence the seafood value chain – from fishermen and fish farmers to processors, distributors, retailers, restaurants, and food service providers – to make the seafood marketplace environmentally and economically sustainable. We also engage policymakers and conservation NGOs to ensure that industry practices become more sustainable and that these sustainable practices connect with policy change.
To this end, we serve as a bridge between two sectors: the conservation community and the seafood industry. Although they can be viewed as adversarial, many in both sectors are actively engaging with each other in new and different ways to reshape the future of fishing and fish farming and to build a larger and more diverse market for more ocean-friendly seafood. Our work focuses on creating a “safe,” neutral place for bringing leaders to the table, crafting opportunities for honest dialogue, and developing pragmatic solutions that help companies begin to transition their operations in favor of sustainability.
Origins of the Sustainable Seafood Movement
The sustainable seafood movement is a very young one, tracing its origins back to 1996 when Unilever and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) began discussions on how to assure the long-term sustainability of global fish stocks and the integrity of the marine ecosystem. These talks led to the creation of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the world’s first seafood eco-label provider. Three years later, the first MSC certified fishery was announced. At the same time, the Monterey Bay Aquarium was distributing the first version of the Seafood Watch wallet card for consumers, identifying good and bad seafood choices based on environmental consideration.
Seafood Choices began activity in 2001 as an outgrowth of SeaWeb’s work with chefs in 1998 on the “Give Swordfish a Break” campaign and in response to a perceived need to convene these various sustainability efforts around common themes. While we were initially established to serve as a place for NGOs working on the issue of sustainable seafood to come together to develop a common understanding and language, our work evolved to bridge efforts between the conservation community and industry in the area of sustainable seafood practices. Ten years after the birth of this movement, and as a result of the work of Seafood Choices and others, Unilever is now being joined by a spate of companies – from Wal-Mart and retail giant Ahold USA to Darden Restaurants and McDonald’s – seeking to improve their sourcing. Many would agree that those commitments have served as a catalyst across the broader industry.
Through this ten-year period, the movement began to exhibit more characteristics of a field of work – grounded in science, moving toward a shared common language, and developing structures, methods, and “practice” to accomplish its work. This evolution from movement to field has been driven both by the interest of foundations willing to fuel the work of nonprofits and the growing awareness among those in the seafood industry regarding the ultimate peril to their own businesses if more attention is not paid to sustainability.