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Diverse mechanisms to address or achieve sustainability

Although sustainability aims at achieving long-term balanced positive outcomes for all stakeholders involved, different stakeholders have different priorities while tackling sustainability and, as such, may use certification to promote different approaches to food quality. Differences in stakeholders' motives should be clearly understood to investigate the suitability of different schemes; standards and the related certification scheme should be developed through a true consensus-building process and multistakeholder consultations.


Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), for example the agencies of the United Nations such as FAO and UNEP, NACA, the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), in addition to other international agencies such as the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and many others tend to tackle sustainability in a broad sense, trying to protect the interests of all the stakeholders involved, often paying particular attention to countries with limited resources and to the poorer sectors of society in these countries.

However, different to international organizations, which generally have a very broad membership base including both countries that are fundamentally producers and countries that mainly consume aquaculture products, regional organizations may be potentially more concerned with protecting the interests of their member countries that may be mainly producers (for example in Asian countries) or consumers (for example in the EU) of aquaculture products.


Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play an important role in achieving sustainability. Similar to IGOs, NGOs target sustainability broadly. However, although it would appear that NGOs operate without the need to protect the interests of specific groups of stakeholders (or countries), arguably NGOs have to respond to the needs of their members and supporters, who in the case of international NGOs often come from the developed world, as opposed to national NGOs located throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America that often represent primarily the interests of the people in developing countries. Nevertheless, like IGOs, NGOs can be considered relatively independent in their scope. NGOs such as WWF have played a key role in the path towards sustainability, especially in terms of environmental protection and responsible use of natural resources. However, campaigning NGOs have also been criticized for their poorly constructive criticism,8 which arguably is because they do not gain any benefits from a specific process or sector being or not being in place (i.e. they can argue that a specific sector is unsustainable and should be dismantled without being directly affected by its disappearance); this is both a strength and a weakness of the NGO approach to sustainability.

A special case is the ISO. The ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 157 countries, with one member for each country. The ISO however is not an IGO, as its members are not delegations from governments. ISO standards tend to aim at sustainability broadly and are discussed in further detail hereunder.


The views of IGOs are most commonly shared by governments, although governments also have a more specific responsibility to act in the interest and needs of their own citizens and, related to the aquaculture sector, these may vary depending on whether countries are primarily producers or consumers of fishery products.

Countries primarily importing aquaculture products will tend to be more concerned with the interests of consumers. The quality of products, and more specifically their safety, will tend therefore to become a priority. Similarly, governments in producing countries are also interested in tackling sustainability broadly, although they may pay particular attention to protecting the interests of producers, who in some Asian countries represent a high proportion of their citizens. People involved with the fisheries sector in Asian countries frequently have limited resources, therefore their interests may also become a priority for sustainability worldwide.


Being the end-users, consumers' preferences and perceptions play a key role. Arguably, consumers are most concerned with food quality in terms of taste and safety, although other quality attributes may indeed play a role. Increasingly consumers are interested in the process through which a product is produced, the process-oriented quality, in addition to quality control attributes. Although still at a niche scale, a rising number of consumers require that the product is produced in a socio-economically and environmentally sustainable manner. Environmental sustainability is facing significant consumers' demand. A survey commissioned by the Seafood Choices Alliance, in partnership with WWF, Greenpeace, the Marine Conservation Society and the North Sea Foundation and conducted in three European countries (the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain) showed that 86 percent of consumers would prefer to buy seafood that is labeled as environmentally responsible and that 40 percent are prepared to pay a 5 to 10 percent higher price for such products. The study also identified that 95 percent of the surveyed consumers wanted more information on how to buy sustainable seafood.9

Although efforts towards the production of fair-trade fisheries products are still in their infancy, their marketing is likely to follow a similar pattern to environmentally sustainable products.

It must be pointed out that consumers' demand for sustainability is often based on "perceived" as opposed to "true" sustainability (see aforementioned user-oriented quality attributes). Although the difference between them may be small, it is often difficult for consumers to assess the true sustainability of a process and they will base their choices on credence attributes, i.e. basing their requests for sustainable products on the information provided by what they consider credible sources of information. In addition, although a process may be perceived as sustainable when examined in isolation, the assessment of the process on a wider scale may identify areas of concern from a sustainability point of view, i.e. having costs that may be hidden to consumers.


Interest in sustainability among retailers and traders generally reflects consumers' demands. In fact, retailers will market not only what the consumers demand, but also what consumers are more likely to buy. The difference between the two may indeed be small, but worth mentioning. In addition, different to consumers, retailers often have a corporate image to protect, and as such they may be more accountable than individual consumers towards protecting true sustainability. It is worth mentioning that retailers are generally the strongest link in the supply chain and largely set the "rules" with which other links in the chain have to comply.


Producers view sustainability mainly in terms of long-term ability to produce products efficiently, generally in the greatest quantity possible with the available resources and in a manner to allow their profitable marketing, making the process economically viable. To achieve this, the needs of the consumers, retailers and traders, and their demands for sustainable products, need to be addressed. Producers may also target environmental sustainability as a way to reduce self-pollution, although limiting pollution that does not impact their business is arguably a lower priority.

8 Mallaby. 2004. NGOs: Fighting poverty, hurting the poor. Foreign Policy, September/October 2004.
9 WWF. 2005. Survey: Europeans prefer responsibly sourced seafood.

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