Global consumption of seafood and associated trade volumes have risen dramatically over the last decade due to rising population, growing affluence and changing eating habits. Today more than half of all seafood is internationally traded with net transfers from developing to developed countries. The EU is the largest single regional importer taking over 30% of all internationally traded seafood in 2008.

The contribution of farmed seafood products to this market has grown steadily; currently around half of global seafood production is of farmed origin. Most production destined for trade comes from fresh and brackish water delta and lagoon regions of South and Southeast Asia. Four key species groups are fast growing catfishes (Pangansaiidae), tilapias, shrimps and fresh-water prawns. The rate of growth and levels of intensification of some of these systems in geographically restricted areas is unprecedented, leading to serious sustainability concerns.

Current EU policy supporting international trade between Asia and Europe concentrates on issues of food safety as measures of quality, whilst market-forces drive development of standards and labels that identify social and environmental parameters. This project proposes to establish an evidence-based framework to support current and future stakeholder dialogues organised by a third party certifier. This will contribute to harmonising standards, helping consumers to make fully informed choices with regards to the sustainability and safety of their seafood.

The ‘Ethical Aquatic Food Index’ (EAFI), a qualitative holistic measure of overall sustainability to support consumers’ purchasing decisions, will be based on detailed research centred around a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of current processes. This, allied with a sustainable livelihoods approach and system thinking, will ensure aquatic products reach consumers, aligned with analyses from the sustainable livelihoods approach and systems thinking. MSMEs based in the EU will participate in this project, particularly in the action research phase, thus enhancing their relative competitiveness.

Photo © Loni Hensler