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Omega-3s Sustainability: Three Dimensions of Responsible Oversight

<p>In terms of effective sustainability communication, there are &#8220;three Vs" that work well: value, viewpoint and vehicle.</p>

The topic of sustainability isn’t always clear cut. If industry doesn’t consistently convey a strong message, consumers cannot be expected to understand and buy in. And although sustainability has been an ongoing concern among businesses and consumers, considerable progress still needs to be made for finding common ground. There is not one set of guidelines that fits all regarding responsible management and supervision. Creating an eco-conscious supply chain should be a group effort, one where the economies of scale are continually weighed against the impact on the planet. These are but a few of the topics explored in the Omega-3 Insights digital issue, “Sustainability – Three Dimensions of Responsible Oversight."

In terms of effective sustainability communication, Nancy Himmelfarb, head of NJH Sustainability Consulting, said there are “three Vs" that work well: value, viewpoint and vehicle. To make a commitment to sustainability, a company should understand and believe in the value, or benefits, of sustainability for its business. Then, after a company realizes the value of sustainability, it needs to develop a specific viewpoint. Finally, the company needs to choose the appropriate vehicle, or method, for delivering the sustainability viewpoint. It is critical in every communication vehicle to be transparent and communicate all of the facts, including the unknowns.

But what about sustainability pertaining to actual fisheries? Adam Ismail, executive director at the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), said sustainability is marked by unpredictability, as many factors can influence fisheries. In terms of sourcing, a majority of the fish oil available in the supply chain is sardine- and anchovy-based, mainly sourced in Peru. Some of the best-managed fisheries in the world, these Peruvian fish populations are considered healthy and strong. As such, many people were surprised over the last year, when the Peruvian anchoveta fishery took what appeared to be drastic measures. In May 2014, fishery observers began to get concerned that an El Niño could form, which can push down biomass levels and disrupt normal breeding cycles. Waters definitely warmed, and in August and September 2014, sonar surveys only found 1.5 million tons of spawning biomass in the ocean—far below the 6 million ton target.

In response, Peruvian officials took a precautionary approach and skipped an entire fishing season to await the return of the fish. The fishing industry in Peru largely supported this move, despite having to address the loss of a significant source of income in fishing communities. Fast forward to April 2015, when the observable, spawning biomass returned—to a level of 9.4 million tons. Peru immediately set the quota at 2.6 million tons and opened the fishing season. An unsustainable fishery would have allowed a fishing season regardless of biomass concerns, so in this instance, the fishery closure should be viewed as a positive step for sustainability. Ismail also offers an update on the Atlantic menhaden stock, which has a lot of potential for growth, even though it is currently a small source of human omega-3 supply.

Finally, Gry Strand Festervoll, senior scientific communication manager, R&D, global omega-3, BASF, provided insight on sustainability from a supplier perspective. The omega-3 business, she said, serves as a case study on how to balance sustainability and economics. The sustainability approach incorporates three steps that can be applied by any supplier or producer: sustainable sourcing, operational excellence and more sustainable omega-3 end products. Sustainable sourcing starts with choosing partners that live up to established principles. To ensure a thorough understanding of the supply chain and set sustainability requirements, it is important to assess suppliers continuously and foster dialogue and cooperation.

Download the free digital issue here.

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