Kim Gorton is president and CEO of Slade Gorton & Company, a US importer and distributor of premium fresh and frozen seafood products from around the world, sold broadly across retail and foodservice channels throughout North America.
While attending the National Fisheries Institute’s Global Seafood Market Conference last week in Orlando, I was reminded, as I always am when our industry convenes, of the many opportunities we have to work together for the common good.
Seafood is the most nutritious, versatile and sustainable protein on the planet. It is how we will feed the world and, in so doing, nourish our bodies, our communities and the environment.
These last few months in the US seafood industry have not been our proudest, as we’ve wrestled with various internal tensions borne from what has been an extraordinarily challenging few years for all.
The global seafood industry certainly has its challenges, including climate change and the impact of geopolitical tensions on supply chains, as well as combatting food waste and ensuring the welfare of all who help bring this incredible product to market, to name a few.
At the same time, we are uniquely well positioned to help meet the evolving needs of consumers. Seafood is not only one of the healthiest and most sustainable foods, it is fun, exciting, delicious, and cool.
It supports the livelihoods of 60 million people worldwide and appeals to nearly every demographic, regardless of age, ethnicity or socio-economic status. It is celebrated across cultures and belief systems and represents a truly unifying force in an increasingly divided world.
Industry at a crossroads
Yet we stand at a significant crossroad. These last few months in the US seafood industry have not been our proudest, as we’ve wrestled with various internal tensions borne from what has been an extraordinarily challenging few years for all.
It seems that our polarized world and a pervasive cancel culture have found their way into our own realm. While not surprising in some respects given the highly diverse nature of our industry and its broad group of stakeholders, it has been both highly disappointing and utterly disheartening.
I have spent my entire career in this incredible industry. And while there have been challenges along the way, far more often it has been rewarding, exciting and fun.
It seems that our polarized world and a pervasive cancel culture have found their way into our own realm.
I have had the great privilege to work side by side with my family and with a team of talented and dedicated men and women. I’ve also had the chance to work across the supply chain with so many interesting, passionate and resilient people, from customers and suppliers to competitors and industry experts. I consider many to be my friends.
Together we have tackled a number of important issues and continue to work collaboratively on many fronts to help move our industry along the continuum between global starvation and environmental degradation. Or, said in a more hopeful way, between human wellness and environmental stewardship. The results of our efforts are often far from perfect and there is much work still to be done.
However, one thing I know for sure is this: We will only have an impact if we continue to tackle even the most intractable issues together. By focusing solely on what divides us, that which unites us slowly gets starved. And we cannot let that happen. I am reminded of the old Cherokee parable about which wolf gets fed. We mustn't let it be the wrong one.
I do believe that we are not so far down what has sadly become a well-traveled road of optimizing for self-interest that we cannot double back. To not do so would be a travesty in the face of so much promising potential.
We simply must consider a greater goal than only that which helps us, our sector, our individual organizations, or our stance on a particular issue. When we don’t, as has happened recently, we have all missed an extraordinary opportunity to do good in the world. And that is what has been most heartbreaking.
It is incumbent on all of us to find common ground, no matter how far apart our positions may be or how narrow a sliver of alignment may seem. The zero-sum game fails every time in the long run. Every single time. And that mentality will certainly not enable us to have the impact we desire and to do what the world is counting on us to do. Far easier said than done, I know.
I share all of this not as an admonition, but as a reflection on where we are, and the fork in the road we all face. As leaders in the industry, we must stay in the game, seek first to understand, and then be understood.
We will not always agree, and sometimes not at all, and we will not always get all that we need or want. However, we have a far greater chance of having a positive impact on people, our world, and our planet if we tough it out together. Failure to do so cannot be an option.
So, regardless of where you are in the value chain, or what side of any issue you may be on, it is my sincere hope that going forward, we may all consider a less divisive approach to working through these complex challenges so that we can collectively ensure that affordable and sustainable seafood is accessible to all, and that we remain a positive and unifying force for good.
As Robert Frost so poignantly scripted, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."