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Seafood Industry Seeking Sustainable Solutions

Seafood restaurants are looking for new sustainable solutions for their supply chain amid worries that overfishing could threaten the viability of the industry, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

According to a recent study by the United Nations, current commercial fishing practices could almost completely exhaust the global supply of fish within 40 years. Almost 30 percent of fisheries are already producing less than 10 percent of their former potential, according to the Journal.

According to a report on the BBC website, fishing employs 35 million people worldwide and receives $27 billion in annual subsidies. Global seafood demand is projected to rise to 150 million metric tons within 20 years.

Corporate supply decisions can have an enormous effect on the fish population, according to the Journal. McDonald’s decision to rely solely on North Atlantic cod caused its entire fishery to shut down. The restaurant chain now uses five different fish species to produce its Fillet-o-Fish sandwich. The company now requires fisheries to meet minimum standards on reporting practices, the environmental impact of their harvesting practices, and the amount of fish the fishery leaves to replenish the population.

The concerns have given rise to programs such as Seafood Watch, an initiative run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which helps businesses and consumers make sustainable choices when choosing their seafood.

Delhaize America which operates more than 1,600 supermarkets in the U.S. under the Hannaford, Sweetbay, Bottom Dollar Food, and Food Lion banners, announced that it would operate under a new sustainable seafood sourcing program.

The supermarkets’ new seafood policy requires suppliers to verify that seafood is coming from sources managed for sustainability and encourages sourcing locally. The requirement applies to all seafood in the stores, including fresh, frozen and packaged fish and shellfish.  All suppliers are required to be compliant with the program by March 31, 2011.

The program, which was developed in cooperation with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, a non-profit marine science center, requires all suppliers demonstrate that their seafood products come from well-managed fisheries.

Fisheries must demonstrate a detailed management plan, including plans to rebuild stock sizes within a specific timeframe if stock size levels are below target levels, data to determine appropriate harvest levels or practices, monitoring and compliance measures to ensure harvest levels are maintained within acceptable limits, and enforcement policies to ensure harvesters follow regulations, and to prevent illegal practices and unreported harvest.

Meanwhile, the historic Pike Place Fish Market has announced plans to move entirely to sustainable fishing sources by the end of the year.

Governments are starting to take more of a leading role in ensuring the sustainability of fish populations as well. Canada’s national government recently assumed control of its salmon fishing industry after charges the British Columbian government was doing an insufficient job protecting fish populations. And the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission is considering a five-year moratorium on lobster fishing after populations in that region have plummeted. The Obama Administration has also floated the idea of a cap-and-trade system for fisheries.

A recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers attempted to calculate the economic cost to businesses for the depletion of biodiversity levels, such as the extinction of fish species and decline in overall fish populations, finding the largest 3,000 listed global companies are inflicting $2.2 trillion worth of economic damage annually.

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