Just 13 companies control 40% of the largest and most valuable fish stocks according to new research by Stockholm Resilience Centre. Can this dominance offer a potential solution to overfishing and an opportunity to improve seafood’s supply chain?
Despite fish species being on the brink of extinction, global trade guarantees consistent availability of fish at affordable prices. When a fish stock collapses in a region, suppliers source fish elsewhere with barely a dent in fish prices. The upshot is that consumers never receive a signal that marine ecosystems are on the verge of collapse until many reach breaking point.
The dominant companies
Like keystone species in ecology that have a huge influence on the populations of other species in their area, the influence of big business on ecosystems is now so great that one can apply the same concept to multinational corporations.
Scientists at Stockholm Resilience Centre found that 13 multinational companies produce 9-13% of global marine catches and control 19-40% of the largest and most valuable stocks. When they looked at revenues of the 160 largest companies they found that the top 10% account for 38 % of total revenues – this is a distinct “keystone” pattern.
Combined, these companies dominate all segments of seafood production, including whitefish, tuna, salmon, shrimp and tuna aquaculture, but also the production of fishmeal, fish oil and aqua feeds. They play a disproportional role in several of the worlds largest fisheries, including in the North Sea, the Bering Sea and the Western Pacific.
Multinational seafood corporations therefore represent an unexplored opportunity to solve many of the most pressing marine sustainability challenges.
Can fish companies adapt?
These companies, some of which have been around for more than a hundred years, have historically developed important innovations in the fishing sector, including techniques that have enabled a global expansion of the fishing enterprise. They continue to do so, for example, by addressing sustainability concerns in the aquaculture sector and by reducing waste in production chains. Several are now developing ambitious sustainability strategies.
Critics will say they are acting to preserve their reputation. However, many of these companies know the research. They know their businesses are threatened if stocks collapse globally.This is not a superficial branding strategy – it is one of survival.
Now it is time for the leaders of the fishing industry to take action to support the health of fish stocks, the ecosystems and the global population relying on this source of nutrition.
It has long been known that ecologists need to understand the dynamics of keystone species to understand ecosystems. It is becoming increasingly clear that a serious discussion about sustainability transformations towards healthy and resilient ecosystems needs to integrate relevant keystone actors from the private sector too.