Partners of both the Global Tuna Alliance (GTA) and the Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) – which includes every supermarket in the United Kingdom, plus nearly 50 other companies, have published a joint position on Marine Biodiversity of areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) citing that although the supply chain rarely takes a stance on this topic, ‘biodiversity is everyone’s business.’
In advance of the fourth session of the BBNJ Intergovernmental Conference, seafood supply chain stakeholders have made their priorities clear. In their joint position, these businesses recognise commercial fisheries as the largest direct driver of biodiversity decline in the High Seas and call for the increased protection of these areas. They ask for Governments to conclude a robust global treaty as soon as possible, including provision of marine protected areas. This is the first ever public effort by members of the seafood sector to contribute to the BBNJ process in 15 years of negotiations.
“BBNJ” refers to the marine life found in the ‘high seas’, and is known to be a murky and complex topic. The ‘high seas’ encompasses the water column that lies beyond national waters – specifically, they are outside of the Exclusive Economic Zone of any country, and equate to almost ½ of the Earth’s surface. The high seas are largely unexplored, vastly deep, and teeming with marine life. At the same time, they are under increasing threat from overfishing, mining, climate change, and pollution. Only around 1% are currently protected and – due to the lack of clear rules and effective enforcement that follows – the high seas are notoriously difficult to manage and often subject to contention.
Nations across the world are working on creating an international legally-binding treaty to manage shared marine biodiversity in the high seas, and, until now, neither the GTA or SSC, or its partners, have stated individual positions on it. The coalition of retailers they comprise, though usually market competitors, have joined forces to publish a joint BBNJ position. They not only call on governments for action, but also hope that other organisations and businesses will be inspired to follow suit.
The voice of the supply chain tends to focus on seafood matters rather than biodiversity, however all seafood – including tuna – is part of a wider ecosystem. The health of this ecosystem is integral to the sustainability of seafood for future generations.
Giles Bolton, Responsible Sourcing Director at Tesco said:
“At Tesco, we want to make it easier for our customers to buy affordable, healthy, sustainable food. We are committed to sourcing from healthy marine ecosystems, however, currently there’s no robust global conservation framework for fishing in areas beyond national jurisdiction, or the High Seas. As a partner of both the Global Tuna Alliance and the Sustainable Seafood Coalition, we are pleased a strong common position on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions (BBNJ) has been established, and call on governments to accelerate action for a Robust High Seas Treaty, including a 30×30 commitment for a network of Marine Protected Areas.”
Under this joint position, all UK supermarkets are included, along with nearly 50 other supply chain companies. This collaborative approach between competitive businesses is unique and amplifies the global responsibility that is necessary under the BBNJ treaty.
It’s the 21st century – sustainability is on everyone’s minds, especially with countries currently coming together for COP26. It was Paul Polman, ex-CEO of brand giant Unilever, who said, “Sustainability makes good business sense, and we’re all on the same team at the end of the day.” Competitors working together and taking ownership of social and environmental impacts makes it possible to achieve real, transformative change that no single group could achieve alone.
As well as profitable seafood supply chains, GTA and SSC partners want to source from healthy and sustainable fisheries, which are directly linked to a healthy marine ecosystem. This joint position demonstrates how these major retailers are thinking about the bigger picture, stepping forward to make noise and call on governments for action. Because after all, biodiversity is everyone’s business.
The Global Tuna Alliance (GTA) is an independent group of retailers and tuna supply chain companies who are committed to achieving more transparent, socially responsible, and environmentally sustainable tuna fisheries. Operating over 10,000 stores in 21 countries across five continents, they use their collective purchasing power to influence the policies set out by the tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (tRFMOs).
Dr Tom Pickerell is the Executive Director of the GTA: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC) is a group of businesses that collaborate to tackle pressing sustainability challenges facing seafood supply chains in the UK. Its members represent all sectors of the seafood industry, from the largest retailers to individual fish and chip shops. Its vision is, quite simply, that all seafood sold in the UK comes from sustainable sources.
Oliver Tanqueray is the Sustainable Seafood Coalition Coordinator at ClientEarth: OTanqueray@clientearth.org