Drivers Of Change In Aquaculture In Asia
The number of fishes and shellfishes killed for food each year is growing. There was an increase from 141 to 158 million tons of aquatic animal products produced between 2007 and 2012 alone. Along with this increase, consumers have grown more aware of the ethical, environmental, and health concerns associated with modern fishing practices.
But there are several degrees of separation standing in between animal advocates and the sea animals who are suffering. Processing, transportation, and marketing are examples of nodes along the food chain which can influence larger changes in the seafood market.
This study from the mid-2010s takes a deeper look at all steps involved in producing “seafood,” to better understand what drives change in the system in Asia. Researchers aimed to learn what factors are most likely to create or prevent change in the areas of food safety or sustainability. To investigate this, they gathered a range of industry data from interviews, databases, and documents.
The seafood market is complex, and the structure of each food chain varies based on the country and the species of animal used for food. This paper focused only on specific food chains within four countries: China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Thailand. Together these four countries represent a substantial percentage — 20% — of all seafood exports.
One theme examined was the role of domestic regulations within exporting countries. These regulations could stem from governmental departments, private organizations, or NGOs. Strong internal institutions allow countries to test food products, monitor all steps of the production process, and enforce new standards. Once these centralized frameworks are in place, countries are better able to promote change in any of their food chains. Countries with strong domestic regulations often earn a better reputation among importers and gain larger profits. They are also better equipped to adopt third-party sustainability certificates.
A second theme was the importance of negative publicity in driving change. Among the most impactful campaigns were NGO and media promotions ran in the European Union and the United States. These campaigns led to wider use of third-party certification systems. They also forced higher quality and sustainability standards on Asian exporters.
Often, Asian suppliers have risen to meet the demands of their importers. But some supply chains are slower to react to NGO and consumer demands. A key example is the Bangladesh shellfish food chain, which sells shrimp and prawns primarily to wholesale and low-end foodservice markets. These markets are typically not targeted by NGOs, and are slow to demand higher quality or sustainability standards.
Additionally, stricter regulations in the U.S. and U.K. have sometimes caused Asian exporters to seek out new countries to sell to. Other Asian countries, Russia, and the Middle East are all less likely to demand higher standards for sustainability.
In the next few decades, the authors note that seafood consumption is expected to increase along with income and population. Seafood producers in Asia will have more options to sell locally, making them less dependent on the United States and the United Kingdom as markets. This means that U.S. and U.K. markets will need to do more to maintain long-term relationships with Asian suppliers and support Asian producers in promoting sustainability. Even so, the authors expect that media and NGOs will continue to play a key role in spearheading change.
By examining these case studies, animal advocates can gain a more holistic view of the industry we are trying to influence. While the aquaculture industry is complex, there are many opportunities for progress.