Aquaculture Magazine

April / May 2016

How Engaged Are you?

Many people seem to arrive in the seafood industry more by accident than design and very few look outside the small circle that they operate.

The seafood post harvest industry is a nil entry level industry meaning that we are not setting any minimum education/training standards for entry so when you add to that the reluctance, in many countries, to engage in industry associations it does not help create a solid foundation.

In order to understand your role in the industry it is necessary to have a good understanding of how the industry operates. How the regulations and standards are established and how you can engage is important if you want to have some say in how the laws of the future are crafted. Of course, you can remain ignorant and just absorb what is ‘dished out’ and then react. Getting on the front foot and being pro-active may seem to be creating extra work but there is an old saying “If you don’t learn to manage your own industry, other people will find ways to (mis)manage it for you!”

At the end of February in Morocco the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) held a meeting [Committee on Fisheries (COFI) Sub-Committee on Fish Trade] to discuss Fish Trade - and who was sitting at the table representing you? From previous knowledge the answer is probably ‘no one.’ That means ‘you’ have no one looking after your interests on subjects which have enormous impacts on your future. This is not a new initiative as it is has been held every two years since its first session took place in October 1986.

FAO estimates that for 2015 the value of international fish trade was130 billion USD, indicating a sharp drop from the fish trade peak of 144 billion USD reached in 2014. Interestingly they advise that although traded volumes remained steady over the two year period, the decline in value is largely due to currency fluctuations. Wow…USD14 billion on foreign exchange loss – that is 10 percent of the value.

We all should know and be proud that fish and fishery products are the most traded food commodities worldwide. For many countries, especially developing countries, fishery exports are essential to national economies.

Fascinatingly today our industry is operating in a progressively more globalized environment. Fish may be harvested in one country, processed in a second, and consumed in a third. It is a dynamic situation which not only creates opportunities but also brings many challenges. If you are struggling as an insider in this area then imagine how difficult this is for policy makers.

Items which are already on the COFI agenda are Recent developments in fish trade; Building resilience along the value chain; Guidelines for Catch Documentation Schemes; Food quality and safety-related market access requirements; Trade in fisheries services; Voluntary Guidelines for Small-Scale Fisheries; Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – related activities; Monitoring the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and Impact of aquaculture supply on trade and consumption.

These are the sorts of topics which are the foundation to fish trade and impact on your business in one way or another. Whilst the FAO brings together FAO member countries with an interest in fish trade, and has a fairly generous ‘open door’ to industry and civil society organizations (as observers), there generally are few industry associations that take part. Of course there are processes to engage which are not that onerous but it is amazing how little this is reported through the trade.

Certain subjects, such as market access and import regulations, remain constant, and in recent years, delegates have been discussing issues such as certification, traceability, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, catch documentation, decent work and social conditions in the industry - but where is this all feeding into and out of the industry?

Just talking trade and the competing red meat industry, there is steady commentary coming from the major red meat suppliers that the prices for beef and lamb have increased by up to 20 per cent over the past six months. Pork had been cheaper to buy until late last year but even that product has started to firm.

As cattle prices soar, people down the line such as distributors and consumers will continue to feel the increases. It has been muted in Australia that some processors are losing $200 to $300 per head to process meat. That’s not because of strong live export demand; it’s because of the low national herd number. Numbers are down some 30 per cent and they are warning consumers could expect to pay double or more for beef products over the coming years.

Additionally many of the processors/abattoirs are suffering from what they call ‘audit fatigue’ and some highlight that they have more audit days per annum than they have production days. This is something that the seafood industry will be facing more and more unless it starts focusing on working on limiting the number of certification organisations which are allowed in the industry.

There are lessons here for seafood but first we need to engage in local, country and international dialogues to debate such issues. Will we see that day or will we continue to have our industry controlled for us?

The Fishmonger

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