Fish Waste in the Seafood Supply Chain with Cheryl Dahle
Cheryl Dahle is an entrepreneur and journalist who works at the intersection of business and social change. Her current focus is researching, developing and launching ways to solve large-scale, systemic problems. Dahle is founder of the Future of Fish, an initiative to help the seafood industry respond creatively and responsibly to the threat of fish extinction. Dahle spent more than a decade writing about social entrepreneurship and business for publications including Fast Company, The New York Times and CIO. For her work with Future of Fish, USA Today named Dahle a national “Eco-Innovator” in 2013.
Cheryl Dahle: Apart from bycatch, about 20 percent of fish in the seafood supply chain goes bad before it ever meets the customer. There's a lot of waste, some of which occurs because fish is sold by “stepping it up”— meaning the fish only starts getting sold after it is at the docks. There's no reason why we can't sell fish while it is still in the water, but that requires different practices and technology. All of it is absolutely possible, it just means changing the way that we do business.
Douglas Gayeton: You just mentioned that 20 percent of fish never makes it into a market—is there a term for that?
Cheryl: It can be called “shrinkage” or “fish waste,” but it is primarily about the mismatch of supply and demand. Some of that waste is due to the type of gear used to procure it or because the fish wasn't properly cared for by the fisher when they were on the boat. How well the fish was iced and how gently it was taken out of the net also affect the quality of a fish.
In the current supply chain, fishers are rewarded for volume of fish and not for quality of fish. It is very difficult to take one fisher’s catch and separate it from another’s. If one fisher takes great care of his fish and the other one doesn't, those still get thrown together in the same batch because customers buy in quantities larger than a single fisher’s catch.
Unfortunately, the message you send to the fisher is, “I don't care about quality, and you're not going to get paid more if it’s better. What I want is volume.” It's in their interest to catch as many fish as they can and get more money that way, which is exactly the behavior we should not be incentivizing. To improve quality, we need to figure out how to batch in smaller quantities and attach proper price to fish that are well cared for and caught in a sustainable way, which can be done by carrying information with the fish.
Traceability with Cheryl Dahle
Cheryl Dahle is founder of the Future of Fish, an initiative to help the seafood industry respond creatively and responsibly to the threat of fish extinction. Dahle spent more than a decade writing about social entrepreneurship and business for publications including Fast Company, The New York Times and CIO. For her work with Future of Fish, USA Today named Dahle a national “Eco-Innovator” in 2013.
Douglas Gayeon: When people talk about sustainable seafood supply chains, they used terms like “dock-to-dish,” “boat-to-fork” and “trawl-to-table.” What term do you like to use?
Cheryl Dahle: We like the terms “legal,” “traceable” and “truthful” fish, meaning that it's not illegally fished, but was caught legally and whoever caught it had permission. It also means it was caught in a traceable way so you know how it was caught, what kind of gear was used, and that everything you've learned about the fish is truthful. You also have the story of a fisherman who caught it and the community where it came from—all the important attributes about that fish.
There are plenty of fish out there that are sustainable. There are fish docks that are not overfished and methods of getting fish out of the water that don't destroy the marine environment. If you can find a fish where all of these things are true, you know you're eating a sustainable fish.
Douglas Gayeon: Can you tell us what the term “traceability” means and how it applies to the seafood supply chain?
Cheryl Dahle: The word “traceability” has almost as many definitions as the word “sustainability.” We are trying to move a marketplace forward that has more truth telling, more veracity, a marketplace where information is attached to the fish and flows with it through the whole supply chain. What “traceability” looks like can vary depending upon the solutions and who is making up the definition. Ultimately, you're looking for catch data about a fish that is carried with it through the entire supply chain.
Introduction to Fisheries
There are (no longer) plenty of fish in the sea.
The fish are in trouble. Collective effects of bad human behavior (overfishing, destruction of marine habitat, and climate change) are driving the world’s fisheries past their biological limits. What does that mean? Many species, such as Bluefin tuna, are threatened with extinction, the vast majority of our top predator fish are depleted, and two-thirds of fish populations are fished at their limit or overfished.
Our rampant misuse and abuse of the underwater world continues in part because the results of our misadventures remain hidden: It’s easier to stumble upon a strip-mined mountaintop or a clear-cut rainforest than a trawled (think: bulldozed) deep sea floor. The grocery store seafood counter doesn’t reflect scarcity. Labels for seafood are frequently inaccurate and rarely include key information about harvest method or gear type. Most people aren’t aware a problem exists.
But consumers can make these issues more visible by asking tougher questions of their waiters and fishmongers. They also can be more conscious of supporting fishers and farmers who disclose responsible practices, and question the origin of fish ingredients in their cosmetics, dietary supplements, and pet food.
These small steps might seem inconvenient. But the stakes are high. Given that the ocean supplies half the air we breathe, saving the fish is about self-preservation, not conservation.