A common approach defines sustainable fishing

A year of listening, debating and discussing has paved the way to a new definition of sustainability for Australia’s wild-catch seafood

The five ecological components used to determine ecologically sustainable fisheries The five ecological components used to determine ecologically sustainable fisheries.

By Josh Fielding

Early in 2014, an issues paper, Defining Sustainable Australian Seafood “Wild-Capture Fisheries”, was circulated widely among stakeholders of the Australian seafood industry, as part of efforts to reach a consensus on what ‘sustainability’ meant in this context.  

The paper was developed by the Common Language Group (CLG), an initiative of the FRDC established in 2012 in response to the confusion that exists among a range of stakeholder groups about the language the seafood industry supply chain uses (producers, wholesalers, retailers).

Completed surveys responding to the issues paper were received from groups, businesses and individuals across the wild-catch fishing sector seafood supply chain. Respondents included environmental NGOs, key retailers such as Coles, the FRDC’s Indigenous Reference Group and the Australian Fisheries Management Forum.

After reviewing these responses, the CLG has now completed a definitions paper titled Common Language for Sustainable Wild Caught Seafood. This paper, while technical in nature, begins to form the basis of common language around the term ‘sustainability’ for wild-caught seafood. Survey respondents to the issues paper agreed on the following definition.

Sustainable seafood is that

for which the status of stocks of retained target and other fish is sustainable and, in addition, in harvesting the seafood, the fishery’s impacts on bycatch species, protected species, marine habitats and marine ecosystems are such that their existence and functioning also is maintained in a healthy state.

The paper defines five elements that contribute to sustainability and provides both a common language definition and a technical definition. It then identifies several components that make up each of the five elements and defines each of these in the same way – with a common language and technical definition.

The issues paper and the new definitions paper were both prepared by the CLG’s custodian group, which is keen to get feedback on the new definitions.

The CLG custodian group is made up of researchers, management representatives from commercial, recreational and Indigenous sectors, post-harvest processors, importers, environmental NGOs and extension agencies. Chair of the CLG’s custodian group Meryl Williams is also vice-chair of the scientific committee of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

The purpose of the Common Language Group initiative is to develop a consensus on terminology for a range of important issues affecting the Australian fishing and aquaculture sectors in order to gain greater clarity and transparency for the industry.

The CLG will develop agreed positions using a consensus approach involving key stakeholders through both representation on the CLG and wider public consultation.

The CLG members agreed to start the process by trying to define the sustainability of commercial Australian wild-caught seafood. In doing so, the CLG has set aside social and economic aspects of sustainability to initially focus on the ecological aspects of fisheries sustainability.

Definitions of sustainability range from narrow and precise interpretations to broader, less-specific definitions. Government definitions of the terms ‘sustainable development’, ‘sustainable fishing’ and ‘sustainable use’ are helpful when considering the meaning of ‘sustainable seafood’.

Other institutions and organisations may not require formal definitions, and can be flexible in how they interpret ‘sustainability’ in light of their members’ interests and corporate mission statements. They can then use these different definitions of seafood sustainability and management, according to their own missions, priorities and campaigns or promotions.

The aim of the CLG is to bring government and other stakeholders groups to agreement on the meaning and use of these terms.

Common Language for Sustainable Wild Caught Seafood is available for comment via the FRDC website until 15 December 2014.

Comments can be submitted by email to CLG@frdc.com.au.

More information

Common Language for Sustainable Wid Caught Seafood