Sustainable seafood catching on here

The Ashtamudi fishery in India's Kerala state is among those certified as sustainable.
The Ashtamudi fishery in India's Kerala state is among those certified as sustainable.PHOTO: MARINE STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL

10 suppliers secure global body's stamp of approval for seafood caught responsibly

Many not ready to pay more for switch

More businesses here are switching to sustainable seafood, with the number of certified suppliers more than tripling over the past three years.

So far, 10 suppliers have been given the stamp of approval by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) - a global non-profit organisation that certifies responsibly caught seafood.

Worldwide, over 250 fisheries have pledged their support to the MSC to target well-managed, sustainable species which are not considered to be overfished, and to put in place safeguards to curb bycatch and other destructive fishing practices.

Two hotels - the Hilton and Grand Hyatt - also recently received certification from the MSC for serving sustainable seafood at several of their restaurants.

Several other restaurants are also expected to follow suit, with five now in discussions with the MSC.

  • POINTERS TO BEAR IN MIND

  • SEAFOOD CONSIDERED OVERFISHED

    • Black pomfret (wild caught in Indonesia)

    • Bluefin tuna (wild caught globally)

    • Tiger prawn (wild caught or cultured in Indonesia or Thailand)

    • Malabar snapper (cultured or wild caught in Indonesia)

    • Polkadot grouper (wild caught or cultured in South-east Asia)


    SEAFOOD AT RISK OF BECOMING OVERFISHED

    • Silver pomfret (wild caught in the South China Sea)

    • Mud spiny lobster (wild caught in Sabah)

    • Atlantic salmon (cultured in Norway or Scotland)

    • Milkfish (cultured in Singapore)

    • Orange mud crab (wild caught in Indonesia)


    SEAFOOD SPECIES THAT ARE NOT OVERFISHED

    • Mud crab (wild caught in Sri Lanka or India)

    • Pacific salmon (wild caught in Alaska or the US)

    • Squid (Wild caught in Malaysia)

    • Scallop (cultured in China)

    • Narrow-barred Spanish mackerel (wild caught in Malaysia)


    SUPPLIERS OF MSC-CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD TO SINGAPORE

    • Angliss Singapore

    • Binca Seafoods

    • Far Ocean Sea Products

    • Fassler Gourmet

    • FoodPride

    • Golden Fresh

    • Global Oceanlink

    • Indoguna Singapore

    • Lee Fish Asia

    • Trapia

"Awareness is growing fast, but... there is no time to lose," said a spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which works with the council to spread the message that the world's oceans are depleting rapidly.

The startling truth according to the WWF is this: By 2048, the world's oceans will no longer be able to provide people with seafood.

Ninety per cent of global fish stocks are overfished and 61 per cent fully fished - meaning there is already no room for more fishing.

The variety of plant and animal life in the ocean has also dropped by 39 per cent since the 1970s and fishermen have also reached the point of fishing from juvenile fish stocks.

"If you've had bluefin tuna sushi lately, you've enjoyed a piece of the last 4 per cent - compared to unfished levels," the WWF spokesman said.

It was precisely this bleak future that spurred some seafood suppliers, such as Global Oceanlink, to do their part despite having to shoulder higher costs.

The company started by converting 1 per cent of its seafood to sustainably caught ones in 2010 and this included snow crabs. Not only were the crabs up to 15 per cent more expensive than those from non-certified sources, but they were also harder to sell.

That cut the company's margins for snow crabs to the bare minimum, said its operations director Dennis Ng, 39.

"But sometimes it is not just about dollars and cents; this is part of our corporate social responsibility to save the oceans," he said.

Over the past five years, his company, Global Oceanlink, has increased the amount of sustainable snow crabs it supplies to 10,000kg a month, despite taking three years to reap profits from selling sustainable snow crabs.

In total, the company supplies around 15,000kg of sustainable seafood per month to some 60 businesses.

Some others have taken similar steps.

Lee Fish Asia's sales manager Sam Buck, 38, noted that there could be a price difference of up to 50 per cent for certain fish such as cod. Despite this, the company has doubled its sustainable seafood range to 80 per cent since it opened here in 2008. Now it supplies about 32,000kg of sustainable seafood to about 60 hotels and restaurants each month.

Another supplier, Far Ocean Sea Products, received its MSC certification in January this year after years of already selling sustainable seafood.

It now supplies sustainable seafood to 15 businesses, accounting for about 20 per cent of its overall seafood supply.

Both companies agreed cost is still a stumbling block as many food and beverage businesses are not willing to make the switch if it means paying more.

GETTING THE BALL ROLLING
 

The problem now is that while consumers here are aware, they are not asking and the retailers are under no pressure to differentiate themselves.

MR KELVIN NG of non-profit body Marine Stewardship Council, on getting more to commit to sustainable seafood

"It is difficult to initiate it as a supplier as the price is not the same, (so) you have to wait for your customer to be interested and he will be interested when the consumer is," said a spokesman for Far Ocean Sea Products.

Mr Kelvin Ng, 43, commercial director of South-east Asia and Hong Kong at the MSC, hopes that the commitment by big hotels such as the Hilton and the Grand Hyatt will get the ball rolling for more to commit to sustainable seafood, especially supermarkets.

He hopes that as MSC labels become more common, consumers will look out for them and choose labelled products over unlabelled ones.

"The problem now is that while consumers here are aware, they are not asking and the retailers are under no pressure to differentiate themselves," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'Sustainable seafood catching on here'. Print Edition | Subscribe