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Science, policy and practice
These corporations are described as “keystone actors” because they dominate all parts of seafood production, operate through an extensive global network of subsidiaries, and are profoundly involved in fisheries and aquaculture decision-making. The research demonstrates how 13 transnational corporations control 11-16% of wild marine catch and up to 40% of the largest and most valuable fish stocks. Deputy science director Henrik Österblom and his colleagues spent several years studying the “ecology” of these companies and engaged increasingly closely with them in order to deal with unsustainable practices such as overfishing and destructive impacts on people, habitats, and non-target species. The result was the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS) initiative.
This initiative is the first time companies from Asia, Europe, and the US have joined forces to work on a clear agenda and commitment for change. It also illustrates how sustainability scientists can actively engage as change-makers. The ambition is that the joint effort and leadership by these keystone actors will influence the industry sector as a whole and shape future policies into more sustainable seafood production.
Henrik Österblom and his colleagues convened two high-level dialogues with the CEOs of the majority of these companies. The first meeting took place in November 2016 and led to a joint statement with a list of ten commitments for ocean sustainability, recognising the urgent need to strengthen the long-term sustainability of the ocean – both within wild fisheries and aquaculture.
The companies committed to improving transparency and traceability and reducing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in signatory supply chains. Antibiotic use in aquaculture, modern slavery, greenhouse-gas emissions, and plastic pollution were also included. Österblom and his colleagues then started to engage in bilateral conversations with all participating companies at the executive level after the first meeting.
A successful follow-up meeting took place in Stockholm in May 2017 which consolidated the initiative and led to the identification of more concrete steps and tangible collaboration between the respective companies. As with the first dialogue in 2016, this was funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden was the patron of the dialogue. Both meetings provided the participants with the opportunity to step out of the more formal settings and made them connect to each other in a way otherwise difficult to facilitate.
Today, the initiative has materialised into one of the most important cross-sector collaborations within the global seafood industry.
By showing how scientists can collaboratively develop solutions to major sustainability issues together with industry, Stockholm Resilience Centre has developed a unique method which can be replicated in other sectors such as meat and grain production. In fact, preliminary analysis of other sectors indicates that several industries show similar levels of consolidation. This research also actively contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular Goal 14 – “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources”, connecting the initiative to the highly relevant UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The research was presented at the high-level UN Ocean Conference in June 2017. It has also received extensive media attention and has been written about in the leading scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
In June 2017, Henrik Österblom won the Sweden Impact Award 2017 in the category Social Sciences and Humanities. The award rewards “synergy between world-class research and societal impact”.
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