Seafood Expo North America (SENA15) – Recap and Trends

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 In Blog, Events

It’s been nearly two months since thousands of leading seafood industry professionals came together in Boston for Seafood Expo North America (#SENA15). If you follow The Sustainable Seafood Blog Project (SSBP) on Twitter or Instagram, you may have seen our coverage of SENA15. Though sustainability is not the main focus of the show, it’s the thing I seek out each year – and more companies than ever are embracing sustainability as not just a marketing ploy, but as an essential component to a meaningful and profitable business. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s Seafood Expo North America.

SENA15 Recap

A small piece of the expo floor at SENA15.

Prioritizing Sustainability

I was impressed again this year by how many companies and industry leaders are making sustainability a priority. It’s easy to get lost in all of the things that are wrong with our food system – to wrap yourself up in bycatch problems and human rights issues and corporate corruption and to focus only on the long, long road ahead of us. But it’s also important to recognize that there are people out there doing a really great job for our food system and our environment. The SENA15 organizing committee again devoted an entire conference track to sustainability, giving attendees the opportunity to hear from industry leaders, chefs, CEOs, and fishermen and -women who are at the forefront of the sustainable seafood movement. Incorporating these sessions into an event like this – one that draws all kinds of companies, including those who operate in very unsustainable and environmentally degrading ways – is great. Sustainability-focused programming supports and inspires those who are already pursuing sustainability, but it also encourages companies not yet embracing sustainable methods to sit up and take note.

Standout companies at the show included The Saucy Fish Co., whose New Business Manager Charlie Boardman sat down with me to talk about integrating sustainability into a successful business plan. Based in Britain, The Saucy Fish Co. aims to encourage people to cook good food at home by giving them ready-made sauces and fish fillets that cut out some prep work. In Boardman’s mind, sustainability is a given. “It’s just the right thing to do,” he told me, and The Saucy Fish Co. firmly believes that a sustainable business cannot be built without sustainable inputs. Boardman also pointed out that sustainability “is never a finished story,” but a constant regimen of learning and adapting and improving.

SENA15

Also impressive was Blue North, which manages sustainable hook-and-line cod fisheries (as well as several other sustainable food systems ventures). In Boston, Blue North announced the launch of the Humane Harvest Initiative (HHI), an innovative new program aimed at creating ethical standards for fish harvesting. The company has developed an on-vessel device that stuns fish to relieve them of stress before being harvested. Initial research from Washington State University has shown there are positive nutrition effects – including higher vitamin content and more omega-3s – associated with humane harvest, in addition to the process being kinder to fish. Also in production is a new, cutting-edge sustainable hook-and-line fishing vessel. This vessel will set a new record for environmental efficiency and, once in operation, Blue North aims to humanely harvest 100% of the cod caught on this vessel with their new technology. The company also has plans to share this initiative with the rest of the fishing industry, rather than keeping the technology a secret for themselves. CEO Kenny Down doesn’t want HHI to be restricted to Blue North; rather, he wants to share the initiative with the rest of the industry and eventually develop humane harvest into a new industry sustainability certification. “Sustainability is not a catchphrase for us,” said Down when we spoke. “It’s something we all have to invest in.”

SENA15

A mock-up of Blue North’s all-new sustainable fishing vessel.

 

 

Changing Role of Aquaculture

Aquaculture tends to get a bad rap. In many cases, that criticism is much deserved. But the world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, and aquaculture has emerged as a very real solution to the very real problem of how we’re going to provide enough protein for that extra couple of billion people. So how, then, do we harness the power of aquaculture in a sustainable way? A large group of seafood industry leaders are committed to answering that question.

At a particularly great panel with executives of Kampachi Farms, Verlasso, and Australis Barramundi, speakers examined the importance of sustainable aquaculture and the steps we need to take to ensure food for the world while preserving our environment. Their suggestions? Work hard to ensure the next iteration of aquaculture builds on existing sustainability measures. Use sound science to harness the productivity of the ocean without damaging ecosystems. Identify and celebrate the aquaculture farms who are producing responsibly. Stop harvesting wild fish to make the feed for farmed fish – replace this method with a more sustainable one.

“We need vibrant, domestic aquaculture that reconnects people to the idea of growing food in their own environment.” @TheBetterFish #SENA15

— Seafood Blog Project (@seafoodblogproj) March 16, 2015

Most importantly, aquaculture experts stressed the role of NGOs in promoting farmed fish. By promoting companies who are doing aquaculture right, nonprofits and NGOs can shift the consumer mentality away from the “aquaculture-is-evil” mantra that we so often hear. Not all aquaculture is created equal – but we need to give credit to and support the companies doing it right in order to shift the entire aquaculture industry towards a more sustainable future. “Farmed fish, done well,” said Josh Goldman of Australis, “is a great solution to what’s for dinner, to food security, and to health.”

 

The Community

The best part of this show was the community of people dedicated not just to great food, but to the sustainability and longevity of that food and our environment. SENA15 brings together industry leaders, fishermen and -women, nonprofits like The SSBP, seafood buyers for restaurants, and press from outlets all over the world. Basically, this is a group of people that has the power to affect real and lasting change in the seafood industry. And in between fun, seafood-filled events like an Oyster Shucking Competition, networking receptions, and interviews with the press, this group got some amazing work done. Next year, I hope we take an even bigger step forward.

 

 

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