As the world struggles generally to establish stability under “new normal” circumstances, it is not hard to see that leadership is critical to the process. In our own industry, we have been experiencing consolidation, the retirement of key organizational leaders, and negative press on some of the largest brands in the business.  At the same time, major new factors (food safety, sustainability, traceability, and social impact) are influencing our markets as companies and NGOs in these spaces vie for supremacy with their unique and varied models. The end result has been confusion and inefficiency, which has further complicated an already complex supply chain. The question is: who and what will lead us through this and beyond?

Let’s break this down:

Industry leadership – We all remember Charlie Tuna, and while a case can be made that canned tuna is a separate category from commodity seafood generally, the tuna brands have been the most visible in the industry for decades. They are now embroiled in high-profile law suits. Historically, seafood has been the target of press sensationalism, particularly around issues of mercury and seafood fraud. Now we face serious negativity surrounding the household brands established by the largest players in the business. This does not reflect well, and though the NFI is doing yeoman’s work in facing these challenges, we must ask how industry itself can look to paint a different picture.

Food safety – In the realm of food safety, thankfully we have Safe Quality Food (SQF) and British Retail Consortium (BRC) certifications to set a global standard. Early on, when food safety was becoming an important and legitimate concern, the government took the lead with the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program, and SQF and BRC were quick to seize the reigns for independent, third-party testing. Their models are good and effective and the uptake by industry was excellent. Leadership was established early, and implementation was effective. Simplicity was the result. Well done—leadership exemplified.

Sustainability – Pioneers like Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and Monterey Bay Aquarium got out in front of important fisheries sustainability issues early and have been significant catalysts in establishing sustainability as a critical function of supply chain management. The Marine Stewardship Council became the predominant player in resource certification for large resource management. But then it got complicated. Many other organizations spun off to create new and different certification and fisheries improvement models, as groups sought tailored solutions for specific regions, stocks, and production systems. The challenge has been that alignments have been established and a plethora of standards have been adopted and applied across a large number of North American seafood retail and foodservice companies. There is a fair amount of confusion and complexity in navigating all the individual standards when selling into the U.S. market. The result has been higher costs and inefficiency through duplication of effort. In 2008, many NGOs founded the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions to coordinate efforts, and this is positive. Tangentially, the foundations that fund many of these organizations have also begun to coordinate effort. This is leadership forming. A common end game must be established, and industry must engage the consumer in the conversation to create a standard model. The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation appears to be as a leader in this segment, with efforts focused on global tuna fisheries.

Traceability – While this is a relatively new subject, Global Fishing Watch was early to the game and has created a basis for all large-boat traceability functions going forward. While a number of small-boat pilots exist, North Atlantic is proud to have been chosen by Global Fishing Watch to partner on small-boat traceability. We have an effective, scalable model that will perfectly complement the Global Fishing Watch large-boat program. We have taken a very proactive leadership role in this field, managing a successful 20 boat pilot on the island of Sumbawa using passive tracking transponders and collecting over a year’s worth of real data .

Social impact – The slave labor issue drove this subject to the forefront of the news and the industry in 2016. An off-shoot industry sprung up overnight with traditionally environment-focused NGOs refocusing on the issue, and established social NGOs increasing collaboration with environmental NGOs to respond to the challenge. Social audits, previously in development, are quickly becoming requirements. Understandably, large North American retail and food service companies are needing to understand the issue and set policies and procedures to prevent exposure to, and ultimately eliminate, this ugly truth from our industry. The challenge here is that social audits come at great expense in both dollars and time for the audited plants – particularly in developing nations. There is an active effort to rally around a limited number of standards. This is necessary, as having different standards for different customers like we have with sustainability policies would ultimately make it impossible for processors in developing countries to comply and compete. The organizational and financial burdens are too great. There are indications that programs from Sedex and SGS are being more widely adopted, and their leadership, along with some others, will be critical in defining how social audits and, consequently, social impact initiatives affect the U.S. market and supply chain in the coming years.

North Atlantic/Bali Seafood International has been actively addressing these issues for a long time. Though we don’t currently have the scope or scale to influence the industry on the level of some of our multi-national brethren, we are intent on bringing forward an industry-driven, scalable model that addresses these issues in developing countries through our integrated, community-based fisheries management model that encompasses all four of our pillars of supply chain management: food safety, sustainability, traceability, and social impact. We have accepted a leadership role in this regard and are heavily invested in the effort. It will take the support of governments (local and international), local fishing communities, progressive North American customers, and, ultimately, the knowledge and commitment of the U.S. consumer to achieve total success. Raising awareness and establishing cooperation between these entities is our current objective. Our NGO partner, FishWise, is providing well focused and professional assistance in looking at the supply chain from this broader perspective, and we are proud to partner with them. We are taking a leadership role because we believe the future of our industry requires a long view that has no short cuts.