As a seafood veteran, I have observed over the years that for many people, the marine ingredients industry is a blind spot.
Located right at the start of the food production value chain, it is the result of a complex combination of different activities, from fishing to trading, transport and processing. It relies on collaboration between people, companies, coastal states and international organizations.
All of them have an interest in maintaining a healthy biomass in the oceans to secure livelihoods in the long term and data sharing is pivotal in achieving this.
Increasingly though, evidence is required that the supplied data be an accurate reflection of how activities are being operated. This is a market-driven demand. At each stage of the process, operators want to demonstrate to their clients that they work by the book.
I am in no doubt that the ones who know best what the best practices are for a specific industry are the professionals themselves, from all parts of the chain.
A standard is the result of a multi-stakeholder group being convened to work out a set of references. This complex process does not come out of the blue: it is underpinned by international guidelines. In the case of marine ingredients, it is the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
For more than 10 years, the marine ingredients industry has been able to freely choose to demonstrate responsible sourcing and production. Fifty-one per cent of all marine ingredients produced globally are certified against our standards. This is a cause for celebration. Indeed, by comparison, only 2 percent of soy and 19 percent of palm oil production were certified in 2020.
Andrew Jackson, who set up the IFFO RS standard (known today as MarinTrust) back in the 2000s, recently told me: “My proposal was to get retail, foodservice, environmental NGOs and other stakeholders around the table with industry, to work out what would be acceptable if we were to keep using marine ingredients in feed.
"Everyone agreed that they needed to be responsibly sourced, and their origin should be verified by an independent third-party.”
By nature, a standard reflects both regulations and industrial practices. Its strength lies not only in the fact that it provides a consistent assessment grid for all parties, but also that it resorts to independently accredited third-party certification bodies who assess an activity against the given assessment grid.
Ally Dingwall, Sainsbury’s Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager, explained that Sainsbury’s was keen to move the sustainable agenda on for reduction fisheries.
“We used to sit down with the feed suppliers twice a year to go through every fishmeal and fish oil source and risk assess them against our decision tree, which meant a full interrogation of the data," he said. "Once the IFFO RS standard was available, it made it much simpler for everyone.”
A standard is not set in stone: it keeps developing to take into account new requirements in both environmental and social terms.
Between 2010 and 2014, our standard evolved from covering only whole fish used in fishmeal and fish oil factories, to including growing environmental and social clauses. As for our chain of custody standard, it includes traceability requirements to track fish by-products and whole fish back to their origins. Our program is also an open platform: every party can apply, provided they supply the requested documentation in preparation for audits to be conducted by independent assessors.
But more importantly, our program is open to collaboration with other standards. We understand that consistency and mutual recognition across the certification landscape is critical. Our clients are all working towards a common goal: feeding a global population, sustainably. It is our duty to offer a robust, credible and well-established platform to do so.
Libby Woodhatch is executive chairman at the MarinTrust, an international certification scheme program for marine ingredients.