Sustainable fisheries pose Catch-22 situation for MBS

PHOTO: Sustainable fisheries pose Catch-22 situation for MBS

In its push towards more sustainable procurement practices, Marina Bay Sands (MBS) is finding the limited supply of certified sustainable fisheries and farms from the region a challenge when sourcing such seafood.

For MBS, which procures more than a tonne of seafood daily for its food and beverage services, the price premium commanded by sustainable seafood over that of its counterparts does not pose as big a challenge as its limited supply from the region and the cost incurred in trying to bring supplies here - most of which is certified out of the US and Europe, said Peter Woon, vice-president of procurement and supply chain at MBS.

MBS was a participant at a sustainable seafood business forum held on Monday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a non-profit group that runs a certification and eco-labelling programme for wild-capture fisheries.

The forum is part of an initiative to promote the procurement and consumption of sustainable seafood here, as well as increase awareness of the availability of such products and its suppliers.

According to the WWF, Singapore is a major seafood-consuming nation in the region, with an average of 140,000 tonnes consumed annually, more than 90 per cent of which is imported. But supplies are fast running out, it warned, with some 87 per cent of the world's fisheries fully or over-exploited.

Ryan Dadufalza, executive sous chef at Shangri- La hotel in Singapore, which hosted the forum, pointed to what he called a Catch-22 situation.

He said: "If we want to buy sustainably sourced and certified seafood in Singapore, we need to transport it from very far away. It's almost as if to embrace the sustainable food drive, we have to agree there will be negative implications for our carbon footprint.

"And because sustainable produce is often more expensive than its counterparts, a lot of businesses concerned with the bottom line are more hesitant to go sustainable; plus it's harder to get because we have to wait for it to come in (via) air shipment."

MSC's Asia-Pacific director Kelvin Ng believes there has to be a change in consumers' mindset and buying behaviour. "There are very few MSC-certified fisheries in Asia. For MSC to ensure adequate supply, we need more such seafood to come from Asia. But how do you convince a fisherman in Indonesia to invest millions of dollars to get MSC-certified? The only way it will happen is if the market shifts.

"Singapore is a huge consumer and a huge trader of seafood. We need to buy from sustainable sources, and encourage fisheries from the Asian region to get certified. It has already happened in the US and Europe; it can also happen in Asia."

Said MBS's Mr Woon: "This forum is a big initial step for us to understand what's available in terms of sources of sustainable seafood today. MSC-certified products are starting to be available, but not widely to the masses yet."

Tamir Shanel, vice-president of food & beverage at MBS, said: "We will buy products even if they are slightly more expensive. In some cases, we will be able to absorb the cost. In some cases, we will transfer the cost to the customer . . . But as a higher percentage of our menus start to carry more certified sustainable food, it will be a split between what the consumer will bear and what the company can take."

Asked if MSC-certified seafood will take off in Singapore, MSC's Mr Ng said: "It's not a question of if, but a question of when.

"The facts tell us that the situation is pretty dire. If MSC isn't successful in converting at least 10 per cent of fisheries from the region to the programme over the next 3-4 years, there will be a severe devastating effect on the environment.

"We have to make procurement decisions now because the market is what's going to drive those fisheries. I see pockets of individuals in big companies stepping up against all odds trying to make that difference. But I haven't seen collective action."

These certified sustainable fisheries need a level playing field to stay alive, said Lida Pet-Soede, head of programme for WWF's Coral Triangle Initiative.

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