In seafood supply chains, pre-competitive collaboration has become an important tool to address critical sustainability issues in both wild-caught and aquaculture seafood.
Pre-competitive strategies are approaches that businesses take to address systemic problems with the delivery of goods and services. It is a business strategy that is often applied when competition for limited resources impacts business more than the competition for customers—if you don’t have the resources to produce a product, there will not be any consumers to compete for.
How it Works in Seafood:
Establish the business interest for the individual participating companies:
I think the key message is that it’s unlikely that you’re going to deliver this sort of fundamental change on the water by yourself. – Ally Dingwall
Identify a common problem and solution related to resource production:
We have a responsibility at our end as the importers, processors and marketing companies, to actually fund some of that work; and the only way you can do that is collaboratively. – John Connelly
Build trust and deepen engagement:
You have to go over conversations again and again…it takes a lot longer than you might expect. But at the end of the day, if you’re going to be working with your competitors, you really need to build that trust before you can make an agreement. – Katie Miller
Collaboration In Action
A Collaboration Success Story: Sea Pact and the Maine Soft-Shell Clam Fishery
In many ways the soft shell clam fishery exemplifies Maine’s rural micro-economies: small-scale, labor intensive, natural resource extraction in communities often dependent, because of few other economic alternatives, on the health of the resource base. In 2013, soft-shell clams were Maine’s third largest fishery and worth approximately 16 million dollars—significant to the local economy, but not an important fishery outside the region. That’s why it was curious that Sea Pact, a coalition of North American seafood distributors, got together to support the soft shell clam fishery in Maine. The obvious place for Sea Pact to invest would be in the sustainability of the product they buy. Long-term assured supply is really where the confluence of economic interests and ecological interests meet around sustainability. If Sea Pact were getting together to ensure there was tuna to buy in 10 years that would make sense, but why Maine soft-shell clams? “There was a real need for this research and it seemed like it would have an impact. That is one of the nice things about the collaboration of Sea Pact, you can think and act a little outside your normal business sphere.”
Spotlight: International Seafood Sustainability Foundation
Companies that participate in ISSF commit to several conservation measures regarding illegal, unreported, and/or unregulated (IUU) fishing, and ISSF uses a rigorous compliance process for any such allegations. The bulk of their work is focused on proactively eliminating all elements of these harmful practices over time through a range of conservation measures, initiatives, and tools. One such tool is the IMO number (International Maritime Organization number). To begin weeding out tuna caught by IUU fishing activities, ISSF has worked with industry to make permanent and unique vessel identifiers—such as IMO numbers—a standard practice. ISSF also introduced the PVR, a database that uses third-party auditing to transparently report on vessels implementing a series of best practices. Hear more about the positive on-the-water impacts of IMO numbers and pre-competitive collaboration from Susan Jackson, President of ISSF.
Spotlight: National Fisheries Institute Crab Council
The NFI Crab Council sponsors sustainability projects in Southeast Asia designed to preserve crab as a popular, plentiful seafood item as well as an important economic resource for local communities. The council works with in-country partners and key stakeholders to address fishery needs through scientific, social and financial channels, including funding fishery improvement projects.
“The NFI Crab Council was started because we found that the size and type of crab we were getting from Southeast Asia was becoming smaller, and that’s an indication that a fishery long term will run into problems,” Connelly explains.
“So the industry got together and said, we need to look at how we can help folks in Southeast Asia run a better fishery and a more sustainable fishery. But we also have a responsibility on our end, as the importers and processors and marketing companies, to actually fund some of that work, and the only way you can do that is collaboratively.”
Spotlight: Sustainable Seafood Coalition
The Sustainable Seafood Coalition unites retailers, food service companies and seafood suppliers to work toward making sure all seafood sold in the UK comes from sustainable sources. The coalition has developed voluntary codes of conduct for its members that address diversification of sources, responsible sourcing, information gathering, clear labeling and other issues.
SSC members topped Greenpeace’s 2015 ranking of major UK supermarkets and brands on tuna sustainability measures.
“There’s a good financial and economic rationale for taking the approach we have, with security as a major issue,” said Ally Dingwall, a 2016 SeaWeb Seafood Champion and the aquaculture and fisheries manager at Sainsbury’s, an SSC member.
“If we want fish to sell in the future, we need to invest in that now. We need to make sure we’re working together to deliver sustainability for fish stocks and in aquaculture cultivation. It’s unlikely that you’re going to deliver this sort of fundamental change on the water by yourself, so collaboration is the key.”
“I don’t mean to imply that pre-competitive collaborations are easy. As SSC Coordinator Katie Miller acknowledges, “Working together with your competitors potentially is quite challenging. One of the key things we learned at the Sustainable Seafood Coalition is that it takes a lot of time. If you’re working with competitors, you’re going to need to build trust before you can make a difference.”
The effort is worth it, though. Seafood’s supply chain issues are pressing, and pre-competitive strategies are often the most cost-effective and efficient way for businesses to assure that they can continue to get the seafood they need while meeting environmental and social responsibility commitments.