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Sustainable Trade in Ethical Aquaculture

KEY FACTS
Project
Sustainable Trade in Ethical Aquaculture
Project leader
Froukje Kruijssen
 
Start
1 Aug 2009
End
31 Jul 2013
Trade in farmed aquatic products is growing rapidly. Over 50% of fish production is traded internationally. The export of fin fish and shellfish from Asia to Europe is now, in value terms, the most important internationally traded food commodity sector. However, there are major issues regarding the sustainability of this trade from ecological, public health and broader ethical perspectives.
 
This increase in production has been driven by a combination of favourable attitudes towards fish, both from nutritional and health perspectives, and from adverse publicity towards traditional alternatives from issues such as avian flu in poultry, foot and mouth disease in sheep, salmonella in eggs and reports of chemical pollutants entering the food chain. This has also led consumers to be more interested in fish and more vigilant in knowing the provenance of their food and in trusting the supply chain from producer to market. Consumers have also sought greater reassurance in their food purchasing decisions through additional attributes such as certification schemes that focus on fair trade, animal welfare, and environmental impacts including overexploitation of fish stocks.
 
The Asia-Europe trade in farmed seafood poses particular challenges due to the natural propensity of seafood to perish and the potential public health implications. The EU has responded with stringent requirements that have often made compliance difficult for many Asian producers. The sustainability issues have been addressed through a plethora of different certification and labelling schemes, using different standards and often with conflicting interests. This has increased costs for producers and other value chain actors and made it more difficult for them to partake in international trade. It may also preclude vulnerable groups from participation.
 
Towards overall sustainability
The project proposes to establish an evidence-based framework that will contribute towards harmonising these differing standards into a single ‘Ethical Aquatic Food Index’ (EAFI). This will be a qualitative, holistic measure of overall sustainability to support consumers’ purchasing decisions. The EAFI will be based on detailed research centred on a Life Cycle Assessment of the processes involved from production to marketing and consumption, aligned with analyses from the sustainable livelihoods approach, systems thinking and the value chain approach. The findings will be exposed to a rigorous debate amongst stakeholders, especially with regard to local and international perspectives of ‘values’ and the broader ethical principles.
 
The fisheries sectors covered represent the main aquaculture products reaching EU markets: tilapia, catfish, shrimps and prawns. The key stakeholders include micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Vietnam where sustainability is essential in the face of rapid growth in aquaculture production.
 
The social and economic dynamics of value chains
The WorldFish Center is leading one component of this project, Work Package 5, which studies the social and economic dimensions of the global value chains for these aquatic products. To this end, a value chain approach aims to assess the inter-linkage of different actors involved in the production, processing and distribution of the products and the institutional framework affecting the functioning of the chain, while a livelihoods approach assesses the participants’ income generating strategies, their vulnerability and the equity in those outcomes
 
The Work Package thereby examines both the vertical linkages (i.e., the flows of material resources, finance, knowledge and information between buyers and suppliers) and the horizontal impacts (i.e., how the value chains impact livelihoods, vulnerability, gender relations, equity) in the value chains of the selected species in the four countries.
 
Outcomes
By strengthening the knowledge base surrounding the EU-Asia seafood trade, the project will provide the evidence required to support further expansion whilst ensuring a fair deal for those producers and other value chain actors who are meeting appropriate social and environmental goals and offering a safe and sustainable product for consumers.
 
Through this research WorldFish will provide a key socio-economic dimension to the project and a valuable contribution towards the implementation of the Ethical Aquatic Food Index. The research will also improve understanding of the opportunities for European exporters to supply the expanding middle class in Asia.