By: Kathleen Mullen-Ley
I recently had the pleasure of participating in a retail panel discussion at the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s (GAA) annual Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
This year’s overarching theme was ‘Celebrating Leadership’ in acknowledgement of the challenges of responsible aquaculture and the need for collaboration to overcome those challenges. Being relatively new to field of responsible aquaculture, I took full advantage of the opportunity to learn from the industry experts, retailer and foodservice seafood buyers, investors, and academic researchers in attendance.
In my opinion, there are four main takeaways from the conference:
1. Early mortality syndrome (EMS) in farmed shrimp is still a major problem and seafood buyers should diversify their sources to minimize risk.
2. Zone management of farm clusters is a potential solution to the looming dilemma of how to develop the aquaculture industry responsibly.
3. Responsible feed production will require a shift from wild fish protein to alternative protein sources.
4. There is widespread acknowledgement that human rights abuses in the aquaculture industry are real and need to be addressed but there is uncertainty around how.
The first two takeaways are closely linked. Zone management was touted as an effective solution to fight EMS and prevent future aquaculture epidemics. Showing strong support for this view, the GAA announced the development of a fifth star in the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification scheme for zone management. GAA was vague on the details of the standard, but seemed confident that it will be able to address a wide range of aquaculture challenges including disease management and engaging small-scale farmers.
The topic of responsible feed was the most divisive. Alternatives to wild fish protein are severely lacking. Soybeans, rendered animal products, and insects were discussed as alternatives, but none struck me as being both viable and responsible in the short term. The path forward appears to be a two-pronged approach of improving the reduction fisheries involved in fishmeal and fish oil production through improvement projects and continuing to research and develop alternatives.
The issue of human rights was clearly the newest and the most uncomfortable for conference attendees to discuss. Everyone passionately agreed that something must be done, but what and how? Fortunately, FishWise has been tracking the issue of human rights abuses in seafood supply chains for some time now and so I was able to make a valuable contribution to this area of discussion during the retail panel.
The retail panels were composed of representatives from the NGO community, major retailers, and seafood companies to give a breadth of views and experience. Despite having different backgrounds, the panel members were mostly in agreement on the challenges facing responsible aquaculture and the need for collaboration to overcome those challenges. On my retail panel, the most interesting part of the discussion was around how the recent revelations human rights abuses in seafood supply chains has changed how we think about sustainability. The uncomfortable truth is that we may have been calling some seafood ‘responsibly sourced’ despite being associated with egregious human rights abuses. Now that another (yes, this issue has been around for a while) clear link has been made between seafood production and social welfare, the definition of seafood sustainability can no longer be restricted to environmental standards. Figuring out how to address both environmental and social considerations in seafood production and improve traceability so sustainability claims can be verified is our revised challenge moving forward.
Should be easy, right?
Participating in a retail panel discussion at the GOAL conference in Vietnam was a fantastic experience. The GAA is already encouraging increased attendance by NGOs and retailers at the 2015 conference in Vancouver, so if you’re interested in attending next year, you already have a seat at the table.
A valuable new report released by the nonprofit Future of Fish last month highlights the business case for improved seafood supply-chain traceability and describes important technology considerations and third-party options available to the seafood industry. The report, entitled Getting There from Here: A Guide for Companies Implementing Seafood Supply-Chain Traceability Technology, was developed with input from technology vendors, NGOs, trade groups, and members of government agencies working on the issues of seafood traceability, mislabeling, and fisheries management.
This report makes three important contributions:
Firstly, it enumerates many reasons traceability technology systems can be very good investments for seafood companies – from their ability to create inventory management system and operational efficiencies, to their marketing, CSR, and brand loyalty benefits. Furthermore, the “Traceability Vendor Benefits Grid” (found in the appendix) critiques many existing traceability solutions, allowing business to assess which product might best fit their organization, existing challenges, and technologies.
Secondly, the report also includes a frank and informative discussion of the barriers faced by companies assessing technological tools to achieve interoperable whole-chain traceability. Many common concerns relating to new technology adoption (e.g. data security concerns and outdated data collection methods) and whole-chain traceability (e.g. lack of interoperability and uniform standards) are discussed alongside useful summaries of existing policy and certification standards.
Finally, the report describes key principles for the successful adoption and implementation of traceability improvements. Guidance on which traceability technology features might be considered essential versus “nice to have”, the benefits of building traceability into business plans and operational protocols, and the importance of trust building and data sharing among firms in the supply chain.
Given the growing pressure industry faces from government, consumer advocacy groups, and competitors to fight mislabeling and improve traceability, this new report is a valuable resource for seafood companies. The report also helps companies implement traceability improvements that not only reduce risk, but can enhance brand reputation and improve supply chain management.
As some natural resources - including certain seafood species - continue to diminish, resource harvesters must work harder to get the same nutrition or economic gain from their effort. Fishers have to search father out at sea, endure harsher conditions, and fish for longer periods to attain the same returns they did a generation ago.
Sadly, exploitative labor practices are being used to make up for the increasing costs of resource extraction, fueled by the hidden international demand for human trafficking and forced labor. For example in Thailand, Burmese, Cambodian, and Thai men are trafficked to work aboard fishing vessels. Unable to leave, they may remain at sea for several years without pay and endure depraved conditions that may include starvation, physical abuse, or murder. For more information about human rights abuses in Thai seafood supply chains, see the Guardian report Revealed: Asian slave labour producing prawns for supermarkets in the US, UK.
A recent article in Science magazine highlights a direct link between wildlife conservation and the prevention of human rights abuses. The escalation of human trafficking associated with declining fishery harvests exposes the connections between fishery decline, poverty, and human exploitation. Anti-trafficking laws and policies exist, but do not adequately address the scale of the problem or underlying issues like the rapid depletion of wildlife. Similarly, policies aimed at addressing wildlife decline must also consider the social context of wildlife use and connections between wildlife scarcity and social conflict.
The authors call for biologists to work with politicians, economists, and social scientists to find solutions. Combatting trafficking should be one part of an integrative approach that also considers the ecological, socioeconomic, and institutional contexts in which wildlife declines have cascading effects.
For information on Thai shrimp recommendations for seafood businesses, please see the FishWise briefing document.
Photo: Susan Braun
High-fives all around for a major win in the global fight against illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing! In a successful international effort by U.S., Canada, China, and Japan, a Chinese fishing vessel was apprehended this past May for illegally fishing with large-scale high seas drift nets in the Northern Pacific Ocean.
[A quick FYI – The United Nations banned the use of large-scale (over 2.5 km long) drift nets in 1991 due to incredibly high rates of bycatch]
A Canadian CP-140 maritime patrol aircraft first sighted the 191-foot Yin Yuan on May 22nd in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The aircraft crew, which also included Japanese spotters, relayed its sighting to the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau, reporting that the vessel had equipment on board associated with high seas drift net fishing.
On May 27, the Morgenthau caught up with the Yin Yuan nearly 625 miles east of Tokyo, and boarded the vessel along with officers from the China Coast Guard’s Fisheries Law Enforcement Command. The Yin Yuan’s captain admitted to throwing 3.3 km of driftnet as well as other equipment overboard before the Morgenthau had caught up with his vessel.
The Coast Guard found between 900 and 1200 lbs of salmon on board and identified the vessel to be in violation of several fisheries laws, including: fishing with illegal gear, failing to maintain sufficient catch data, and fishing without any kind of license, permit, or official authorization. The Morgenthau escorted the Yin Yuan to the East China Sea, where it turned the vessel over to Chinese authorities on June 3, 2014.
The U.S., Canada, Japan, and China are part of a multilateral enforcement effort to detect and deter IUU fishing in the Northern Pacific, including high seas drift net fishing. The story of how the Yin Yuan was apprehended is a great reminder that IUU fishing is a global problem that demands global solutions and international coordination.
With its recent ratification of the Port State Measures Agreement and establishment of a national task force to combat IUU fishing, the U.S. has stepped up as a global leader in the IUU arena. We still have a long ways to go in eliminating IUU fishing, but the U.S. is making steady progress in combatting illegal fishing on the high seas, monitoring our own state waters, working on a global front to protect fisheries resources and ocean health. Continued due diligence by seafood businesses, including verifying the legality and traceability of products, will help this effort maintain its momentum.
To read the original story click here.
FishWise is continuing to follow the status of the radioactive plume of seawater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan and its potential to contaminate Pacific seafood. Based on the best scientific information available, consuming Pacific seafood is still safe. U.S. state and federal agencies continue to deliver the message that the levels of Fukushima-derived radiation are unlikely to cause significant harm to the public and the risks are small when compared to other things that threaten public health (e.g. smoking, air pollution, obesity, etc.).
Who is testing for radiation?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the primary federal agency responsible for testing food imported from Japan for radiation. The FDA routinely tests for radionuclide contamination and monitors information and data from foreign governments and international organizations, including the Japanese government’s food sample testing program, the import sample testing programs of nations geographically close to Japan, and the Fukushima-related activities of international organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (FDA 2014). In light of the information collected from these sources, in March 2014, the FDA released this update on its website:
To date, FDA has no evidence that radionuclides from the Fukushima incident are present in the U.S. food supply at levels that would pose a public health concern. This is true for both FDA-regulated food products imported from Japan and U.S. domestic food products, including seafood caught off the coast of the United States. Consequently, FDA is not advising consumers to alter their consumption of specific foods imported from Japan or domestically produced foods, including seafood. FDA continues to closely monitor the situation at and around the Fukushima Dai-ichi facility, as it has since the start of the incident and will coordinate with other Federal and state agencies as necessary, standing ready to take action if needed, to ensure the safety of food in the U.S. marketplace. (FDA 2014)
Import Alert #99-33 instructs FDA field personnel to detain shipments from Japan if the food is likely to contain radionuclide contamination. The FDA’s Import Alert #99-33 website contains a long list of seafood species from the Fukushima prefecture that the Japanese Prime Minister has ordered to be restricted from distribution into the export market, including:
Alaska Pollock, ayu, barfin flounder, black cow-tongue, black rockfish, braddblotched rockfish, brown hakeling, salmon (landlocked), common carp, conger eel, crucian carp, fat greenling, flathead, flathead flounder, fox jacopever, goldeye rockfish, gurnard, halfbeak, black porgy, dace, eel, sandlance, seabass, littlemouth flounder, long shanny, marbled flounder, nibe croaker, northern sea urchin, ocellate spot skate, olive flounder, pacific cod, panther puffer, poacher, red tongue sole, ridged-eye flounder, rockfish (sebastes cheni), sea raven, spotted halibut, slime flounder, spotted halibut, starspotted smooth-hound, starry flounder, stone flounder, surfperch, venus clam, whitespotted char. (FDA 2014)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is monitoring levels of radiation in air and precipitation through its RadNet program (EPA 2013). Ocean monitoring of Fukushima radiation has received much less attention from U.S. government agencies. Neither the U.S. government nor the state of California has an ongoing testing program for Fukushima-derived radiation off of the California coast (California Coastal Commission 2014).
However, there is a volunteer radiation-monitoring project underway led by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. Our Radioactive Ocean is a program in which scientists and citizens can send samples of Pacific Ocean water to be analyzed for Fukushima-derived radiation at Woods Hole. To date, The Our Radioactive Ocean website was updated on June 2, 2014 with this statement:
So far, none of the seawater samples taken from the Pacific Coast have contained any trace of radiation from Fukushima. They have contained the same levels of radiation that were evident in the Pacific Ocean before the Fukushima accident. These levels of cesium-137 measured at all sites are between 1 and 2 Bequerels per cubic meter, and are from the 1960s atmospheric nuclear weapons testing programs. The lack of cesium-134, which only has a two-year half-life for radioactive decay, indicates that none of the Fukushima contaminants have reached the West Coast sampling sites. Therefore, continued support for monitoring is needed as the cesium isotopes are expected to reach the coast in 2014 and levels are predicted to increase over the coming 2-3 years. See more at: http://www.ourradioactiveocean.org/results.html#sthash.ScBxOzMU.dpuf (Our Radioactive Ocean 2014)
Kelp Watch 2014 is a project to determine possible radionuclide contamination of kelp forest ecosystems along the California coast by testing kelp samples in multiple locations along the west coast (Kelp Watch 2014). One of the main goals of the project is to soothe public anxiety about the severity of the radiation plume’s impact on coastal ecosystems. The researchers leading the project are confident that the radiation concentration found in kelp samples that will bioaccumulate in the food web that humans are part of will be so low as to pose no harm to human health (Samuel 2014).
Has the radiation from Fukushima arrived on the West Coast?
Since the disaster occurred in April 2011, a radioactive plume of contaminated seawater has been carried towards the west coast of North America by ocean currents. As of April 30, 2014, no Fukushima-derived cesium has been detected in seawater off the coasts of California, Oregon, or Washington (California Coastal Commission 2014). The leading edge of the radioactive plume appears to have recently reached Vancouver Island off of Canada, and could possibly reach California next year, although coastal upwelling could hold the plume at bay for several years (Rossi et al 2013). The peak concentration of Fukushima-derived radionuclides is anticipated to reach California between 2016 and 2019 and then gradually decline over the following decades (California Coastal Commission 2014).
Should we be worried?
The answer that scientists studying the issue have come to is no. Due to the rapid dilution of the radioactive seawater in the vast Pacific Ocean, the concentration of radionuclides from Fukushima is expected to be only slightly above pre-accident levels, and far below naturally occurring radioactive elements in the ocean (Buesseler 2014). Even the highest estimated levels of radioactivity are more than 400 times lower than levels of naturally-occurring radiation and represent only a tiny increase in total radioactivity above pre-accident levels (California Coastal Commission 2014).
Evidence for this can be found to the north of Hawaii and off the coast of British Columbia, where the low levels of cesium detected indicate that the level of exposure along the west coast will be low and marine organisms such as fish are extremely unlikely to accumulate dangerous quantities of radioactivity (California Coastal Commission 2014).
Is Pacific seafood contaminated?
Along the west coast of the United States, low levels of cesium radioisotopes from Fukushima have been found in Pacific bluefin (Madigan et al 2012) and albacore tunas (Neville et al 2014). In 2011, Madigan et al detected very low levels of Fukushima-derived cesium in highly migratory Pacific Bluefin tuna, which the researchers determined had accumulated in the tissue of the fish during the juvenile phase of their life cycles in the western Pacific (Madigan et al 2012). A follow-up study in 2012 found that radiocesium levels in Pacific bluefin had decreased by more than 50%, indicating that the concentration of radioactivity in the ocean from Fukushima is rapidly decreasing (Madigan et al 2013).
Using the same dataset as Madigan et al, Fisher et al concluded that a subsistence fisherman consuming only Pacific Bluefin tuna in amounts five times greater than the average total seafood consumption in the US would receive 0.1% more radiation than the normal annual radiation dose humans receive (Fisher et al 2013).
Some bottom dwelling fish such as flounder tested very close to the reactor off Japan have been found to have levels of radiation above Japanese regulatory limits, so eating those fish is not recommended. However, due to closures of fisheries in the areas near Fukushima and Japan’s strict limits for radiation in seafood, it is extremely unlikely those fish could make it to US markets (Buesseler 2014).
Short background on radiation in the ocean
The vast majority of radioactive particles in the ocean are there as a result of the weathering of rocks and the erosion of continental crust (Buesseler 2014). Until the Fukushima plant meltdown, the primary anthropogenic source of radiation was from fallout from nuclear weapons testing in the 1950’s and 1960’s and from Chernobyl fallout, to a lesser extent. Cesium-137 is the main radionuclide of concern following the Fukushima disaster due to its relatively long half-life (over 30 years) and potential to affect human health through bioaccumulation. Cesium-134 has a short half-life (two years) and therefore decays quickly, making it less of a threat. Both isotopes of cesium are highly soluble in ocean water, meaning that a radioactive plume of these particles quickly dilutes as a result of ocean current and mixing processes (Buesseler 2014).
Conclusion and Recommendations
FishWise maintains the same conclusion and set of recommendations from our last update in December 2013. There is no question that there are major concerns regarding the effects of radiation from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on human health and the environment. However, the key results from these peer-reviewed studies and from the government tests have been misrepresented in the media and have led to the concern that seafood in the Pacific is contaminated from the Fukushima plant and unsafe to eat. While Japanese subsistence fishers may need to take caution, people in the U.S. eating seafood from the eastern Pacific do not need to spend too much time worrying. Based on the scientific information available, consuming Pacific seafood is safe. We will update our research on this situation as new information becomes available.
Buesseler, K.O (2014). Fukushima and ocean radioactivity. Oceanography 27(1): 92-105. http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.02.
California Coastal Commission (2014). Report on the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Disaster and Radioactivity along the California Coast. 30 April 2014. California Coastal Commission: http://documents.coastal ca.gov/reports/2014/5/F10b-5-2014.pdf
Fisher, N.S., K. Beaugelin-Seiller, T.G. Hinton, Z. Baumann, D.J. Madigan, J. Garnier-Laplace (2013). Evaluation of radiation doses and associated risk from the Fukushima nuclear accident to marine biota and human consumers of seafood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 110(26): 10670-10675.
Kelp Watch (2014): http://kelpwatch.berkeley.edu/home
Madigan, D.J., Z. Baumann, N.S. Fisher (2012). Pacific Bluefin tuna transport Fukushima-derived radionuclides from Japan to California. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109(24): 9483-9486.
Madigan, D.J., Z. Baumann, O.E. Snodgrass, H.A. Ergül, H.Dewar, N.S. Fisher (2013). Radiocesium in Pacific Bluefin tuna Thunnus orientalis in 2012 validates new tracer technique. Environmental Science & Technology 47: 2287-2294.
Neville, D.R., A.J. Phillips, R.D. Brodeur, K.A. Higley (2014). Trace levels of Fukushima disaster radionuclides in East Pacific albacore. Environmental Science & Technology 48: 4739-4743.
Our Radioactive Ocean (2014). Available at: http://www.ourradioactiveocean.org/. Accessed on June 4, 2014. See also “Educate Yourself”, http://www.ourradioactiveocean.org/index.html#help.
Rossi, V., E. Van Sebille, A.S. Gupta, V. Garçon, M.H. England. (2013). Multi-decadal projections of surface and interior pathways of the Fukushima Cesium-137 radioactive plume. Deep-Sea Research I 80(2013): 37-46.
Samuel, M (2014). “New Fukushima radiation study will focus on west coast kelp forests.” 15 January 2014. KQED Science. http://blogs.kqed.org/science/2014/01/15/new-fukushima-radiation-study-will-focus-on-west-coast-kelp-forests/
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2014). RadNet Monitoring data. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/radnet/. Accessed on June 4, 2014. See also “Radiation in perspective”, http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/perspective.html
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2014). FDA Response to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Facility Incident. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm247403.htm. Accessed on June 4, 2014. See also “Import Alert 99-33”, http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cms_ia/importalert_621.html