Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sustainable seafood consumption in Brazil: An interview with Daniele Vila Nova


Marine fishery resources have worldwide economic, social, and ecological importance. These fisheries provide a relevant part of protein intake and income for people in the developing world, being linked directly and indirectly to the fishing sector. As the global population increases, the demand for fish increases which leads to a growing number of vessels, diversification of fishing gear, and improvements of catchability. All of these innovations are leading to crashing fish stocks and dramatically changing marine ecosystems. However, the growing number of vessels, the diversification of fishing gear and the improvements in catchability, coupled with population growth and increased demand for fish in recent decades made overfishing a global reality, not only affecting fish stocks, but entire marine ecosystems. This urgent situation should leads to the promotion of forms of sustainable resources, which should encompass fisher all the way to the final consumer.
            There are many factors that determine if fish are sustainably caught. The factors that lead to this are information about the social conditions of the fishing worker (from extraction to marketing), the ecological status of fish stocks and even the basic conditions of preparation and processing the catch. These factors should be accompanied or explicitly demanded by consumers to help with their shopping choices, although this is hardly ever the case, especially in developing countries.
            Daniele is a biologist with a master's and doctoral degree in Ecology and Conservation. She has extensive experience in coastal and marine conservation which has allowed her to work in multiple initiatives to integrate and promote stakeholder/institution engagement towards coastal and ocean sustainability in Brazil. She is currently a fishery analyst for the Seafood Watch Program (Monterey Bay Aquarium) (www.seafoodwatch.org) and the Research Director for Paiche      (instagram.com/paichebr) which is a brand-new consulting firm focused in promoting seafood sustainability in Brazil. She is also part of the Brazilian Alliance for Sustainable Seafood (www.facebook.com/abps.pescasustentavel), and her work with this organization will be further explained in the interview

1. Can you tell to us a little about “Alian├ža Brasileira de Pescado Sustent├ível” and the work being developed?
The Brazilian Alliance for Sustainable Seafood (BASS) aims to promote collective actions searching for solutions to address the many challenges of the seafood supply chain along with promoting sustainable seafood consumption. BASS was created in 2015 during the second Seminar on Fisheries and Aquaculture: Seeking Sustainable Solutions. The meeting culminated in the joint decision to create the Alliance. Attendees represented the largest ocean conservation nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in Brazil and included: celebrity chefs, large retailers, food service companies, industry, government, independent scientists, aquariums and some prominent universities.

2. What are the main difficulties for the fish sustainability in Brazil?
In a nutshell, there's not enough information. In a country as big as Brazil, without providing fisheries statistics at a national level for about 10 years, it really shows how great the challenge is to promote seafood sustainability here. The lack of a continuous agenda hampers promising initiatives that are also often interrupted due to changes in the government and/or lack of consistent funding. It is also worth noting that in such a large country one single solution won't be enough. We need to identify best practices/initiatives already in place across the country and replicate the methods where the conditions are similar. This would allow us to seek solutions that would ultimately meet local problems while also addressing the local social, environmental, economic and cultural components.

3. How could we convince the big companies to practice sustainable fishing?
From a global standpoint, a positive aspect that I could mention is that changes are happening outside Brazil. There's a growing movement promoting seafood sustainability that has been ongoing for about 20 years, and this wave of changes is finally arriving here. Due to a large quantity of seafood in Brazil coming from other parts of the globe, some of this seafood is already certified or evaluated within seafood recommendation programs. Also, much of what is produced here is exported, so we've been witnessing sanctions and embargos towards Brazilian companies for not providing/performing consistent information that is legally required. What may initially be a negative condition can actually become a 'wake up call' for the big companies. Is the Brazilian government responsible for not enforcing the regulations? Yes, absolutely. However, companies are also responsible for not following them many times, despite knowing such regulations. The challenge here is to enable companies understand the benefits (both financial and environmental – the latter being usually a long term benefit) of compliance and also of proactively engaging in more sustainable practices (which in turn may also increase the value of their product in the market). Whoever leads such changes will also reap the first benefits.

4. You recently attended the “SeaWeb Seafood Summit” event in Barcelona, Spain. How was it to participate to this event and how is the Brazil's situation in relation to other countries?
It was an incredible experience! To be able to meet and network with the world's leaders involved in the sustainable seafood movement was a game changer for me. I also learned many inspiring stories from other developing countries addressing similar problems that we face here (lack of data, low investments, lack of transparency, social responsibility, etc. Unfortunately, I was the only Brazilian attending the Summit. Hopefully, this will change in the coming years.

5. What can each of us do to contribute to the fish sustainability?
Be a responsible consumer! Ask what fish is when you go to a restaurant, check labels, and see where your seafood is coming from when you go grocery shopping. Be aware of species that are endangered and that shouldn't be consumed. Don't eat sharks and rays (most of them are endangered species). Vary your seafood options by trying local species that are not widely known but will likely be more abundant than other species in high demand (think tuna!). Spread your knowledge to your friends, colleagues, and family. We need more changemakers!