Canada’s seafood supply chains are open to employee fraud and abuse

New campaign calls for fully traceable boat-to-table seafood supply chains

By Fabian Dawson

An international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation calls on Ottawa once again to end the shady global seafood supply chains that could lead to overfishing, mislabelling and forcing seafarers to work under unacceptable conditions. to make.

Oceana Canada has also launched a petition campaign calling on the Canadian government to implement fully traceable seafood supply chains.

The group said it has worked with academics who have analyzed Canada’s role in fighting human rights violations in global seafood supply chains, and found that the country is dramatically lagging behind other OECD countries.

“This makes Canadians unwittingly complicit in unacceptable working conditions and forced labor in a range of global fisheries,” said Sayara Thurston, seafood campaigner at Oceana Canada.

“One way of addressing this is the traceability of seafood from boat to fork. This would help close market doors to fisheries that are unsustainable and rely on underpaid or poorly treated workers by blocking imports of fish products that cannot be traced back to well-managed fisheries,” she said in a statement.

New market research conducted by Abacus Data for Oceana Canada in the spring of 2022 found that the government is failing to meet Canadian expectations regarding transparent seafood supply chains.

Ninety percent of Canadians want more information about seafood labels, including the original location of the catch and where and how the fish or seafood was caught. Nearly three-quarters of Canadians also believe the government should take action to prevent forced labor seafood from coming to Canada. forced labour.

In 2019, the federal government pledged to introduce boat-to-table traceability for seafood, and more recently has committed to enact legislation to address the use of forced labor in Canadian supply chains. To date, however, no concrete progress has been made on either commitment, leaving Canadian seafood supply chains open to fraud and products from illegal practices.

“Canada has made the right commitments to improve transparency in our seafood supply chains, but without action Canadians have no guarantee that products from illegal practices will not still find their way into our country,” Thurston said.

“Canada needs comprehensive legislation to ensure transparent, traceable seafood supply chains. This will have a direct impact on ending overfishing, mislabelling and forced labor and unacceptable working conditions in the wild-caught fishery.

Oceana Canada’s petition campaign follows calls from a coalition of seafood industry leaders, researchers and nonprofits to see Canada ensure that all seafood sold in the country is fairly labeled, legally caught and fully traceable.

In a letter addressed to three ministers and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the group is urging the federal government to commit to a timeline for mandating boat-to-table traceability for seafood sold in the country. are sold.

The letter, signed by 26 entities, including Buy Low Foods, Sobey’s, Ocean Wise, Nature Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, expresses concern that there is no timeline or plan for implementing that commitment, two years after this was entered into.

“People need to know where a fish comes from, how it was caught, that the fish is being labeled as the right species and that it is not harmful to human health or the health of ocean ecosystems,” the group said.

“With approximately 1,700 different types of seafood from around the world now available, it is unrealistic to expect chefs, restaurant owners, retailers and consumers to independently determine that the fish they get is actually the fish they paid for. .

“In Canada, seafood supply chains are not transparent, posing health risks, leading to millions of dollars being lost from the legitimate economy that perpetuates unsustainable production, human rights violations and destructive illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

“As jurisdictions around the world increasingly require electronic data to track seafood products through the supply chain to protect their true identity, place of origin and ensure legality, Canada is lagging behind in seafood traceability,” it said. the group.

“Your mandate is to support Canadian fishermen and the seafood industry with strong traceability, and we have yet to see that support translated into action,” reads the letter to Canadian Ministers of Health, Agriculture and Fisheries and Dr. Siddika Mithani, president of the CFIA.

While traceability is murky in many seafood supply chains, it’s not much of an issue in the farmed seafood industry, said Tim Kennedy, president and CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA).

“One of the key strengths of Canadian aquaculture is our traceability — we can identify the product from ‘egg to fork’ through genetics and labeling,” he told SeaWestNews.

“This is also reinforced by the fact that 95% of farmed salmon in Canada worldwide is certified to Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) standards, including traceability.

“Canada’s major farmed fish producers are very integrated, from hatchery to processing and delivery, so tracking the product is quite easy.

“This is another reason Canadians should look to Canadian farmed seafood products to ensure quality and freshness,” said Kennedy, whose organization represents more than 25,000 workers in the fish farming industry, accounting for about a third of the total value of Canadian fishery production. .

Image Courtesy of Oceana Canada

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