A question of sourcing

Is there a case for Australian suppliers and processors to unite on seafood sourcing claims? 

By Catherine Norwood

Responsible sourcing of seafood for restaurateurs and retailers is the focus of new efforts to raise consumer confidence in the integrity of Australia’s seafood sector.


Fisheries economist Sevaly Sen is leading an evaluation of responsible sourcing codes and buying approaches for seafood.


This is part of her role in leading the FRDC’s national priority-one program: ‘Ensuring that Australian fishing and aquaculture products are sustainable and acknowledged to be so’.


“Our aim is to develop a decision tool to allow or assist seafood businesses to make informed choices around their seafood,” she says.


As part of this, she is evaluating existing domestic and international examples of responsible sourcing codes of practice and risk-assessment approaches for seafood buyers. 


Australia is already on the path to developing and providing information for business and consumers with the Status of Australian Fish Stocks (SAFS) Reports.


The FRDC published the third edition (see page 10) and has been actively progressing the further development of the reports.


This includes expanding the information that business can then use to support their buying decisions and labelling claims. With seafood sourced globally and fisheries managed by multiple countries, it also makes sense to ensure Australia is part of the global conversation on these issues and to learn from those who already have relevant systems in place.


In the United Kingdom, the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) has developed the Voluntary Code of Conduct on Environmentally Responsible Fish and Seafood Sourcing and the Voluntary Code of Conduct on Environmental Claims.


Also in the UK, the Seafish industry authority has developed the Risk Assessment for Sourcing Seafood (RASS) tool as a business-to-business tool. And while not targeted at consumers, they may also find it useful.


Katie Miller from the SSC and Alex Caveen from Seafish have both made presentations to the FRDC and seafood sector stakeholders in recent months.

Voluntary codes

Katie Miller says one of the aims of the codes of conduct developed by SSC was to inform the public debate on seafood and to harmonise labelling around “sustainability”.


For businesses, she says, being part of this approach is about building and maintaining trust and reputation.


The code for responsible sourcing is a minimum commitment designed for both large and small businesses, supported by a guidance document that details what this commitment might look like in practice and also what best practice might be.

Risk assessment

To help businesses undertake a risk assessment, Seafish developed the business-to-business RASS tool. The tool scores risk from one (very low) to five (very high) for each of four criteria: stock levels, fisheries management, bycatch and impacts on habitat. It includes about 300 fish stocks from UK waters, or which are landed in the UK.


Identification of one or more of the criteria as high-risk makes seafood buyers aware of impacts that may be of concern to their customers. The RASS tool is being used by a range of seafood companies, including those which undertake their own assessments as a way of fine-tuning or aligning their purchasing with their risk appetite.

Local evaluation


Working with Seafood New Zealand, the FRDC project has assessed four species against the Seafish RASS methodology and other risk methodology tools to test whether they could be adapted for use here.


Sevaly Sen says information already collected for the SAFS reports will be used to provide some of the ‘back-end’ data for a risk assessment tool, particularly in relation to stock sustainability.


“I expect that we may have better stock data for many Australian fisheries than they have in the UK, and we have done four Australian case studies for the RASS to see how it suits the Australian context. We also want to see whether aquaculture could be considered, as well as social risk issues, in the future.” 

It is clear the future approaches in assessing the sustainability of fisheries will be much broader than stock status and will include the key areas of management, bycatch and habitat impact.


This is consistent with the benchmark tool of the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (the FRDC is a member of the GSSI; www.ourgssi.org), the SSC and RASS tools.

Terms of agreement


The FRDC’s National Priority One is also looking at “pre-competitive agreements”, such as the SSC, between the key seafood buyers (supermarkets and wholesalers), about what ‘sustainability’ and ‘responsibly sourced’ terminology used in Australia could include. “In the end, it is consumers that would benefit from agreement on these claims and processes, because they become defensible – businesses aren’t using these words or making claims without any substance behind them,” Sevaly Sen says.


“For example, consumers would know that if it is ‘responsibly sourced’, companies have done some risk assessment.


“It also benefits the companies involved because they’re all talking the same language, with agreement on what it means and the methods involved. It also defends their brand reputation.


“It’s not the whole picture of improving consumer and business confidence in Australian seafood, but it is part of the puzzle.”


Sustainable seafood coalition initiative

The Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) is a partnership of businesses whose vision is that all fish and seafood sold in the UK come from sustainable sources. During a presentation at the Sydney Fish Market in October 2016, Katie Miller from the SSC secretariat said there were three major drivers that led to the creation of the coalition and the codes of conduct in the UK. These were:

  • A report by the European NGO ClientEarth in 2011, which had evaluated the sustainability claims on the labels of 100 seafood products purchased from supermarkets in the UK.
  • The Fish Fight campaign, launched in 2010 by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, to ban seafood discards in the European Union. Fish Fight was designed to push for the third driver.
  • The reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, the legislation that regulates European fisheries management. After years of negotiations, the EU reforms were endorsed in 2013 and included a ban on the discards of commercial quota species, which is being progressively implemented.

FRDC Research Code: 2016-062

More information

Sevaly Sen

Sustainable Seafood coalition