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In His Own Words: Wally Stevens Talks Global Seafood Assurances

At Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium, on April 25, Global Seafood Assurances (GSA) — a new, independent, not-for-profit organization established to meet marketplace and public expectations for assurances in aquaculture and fisheries — made its official debut. With about 120 seafood professionals in attendance, Wally Stevens, executive director of the Global Aquaculture Alliance, which spearheaded the formation of the organization and will initially fund its operations, emphasized the need to address gaps in certification, in both aquaculture and fisheries.

Six weeks later, Stevens continues to spend a lot of his time raising awareness of and building support for GSA worldwide. Response to the concept of GSA has been mostly positive, especially from the marketplace. However, in an industry swimming in a sea of acronyms, the launch of GSA hasn’t come without questions and curiosity.

In a one-on-one interview in early June, Stevens addressed a handful of questions to further clarify the approach of GSA. He reiterated it is intended to represent critical assurances to the marketplace; it is not intended to result in the harmonization of existing certification standards. Qualifying certification programs will continue to operate separately, he said, though there’s potential for realizing efficiencies through combining administrative- and service-oriented tasks such as traceability technology, data analysis, certification body management and accounting.

What are people saying about the concept of GSA? What are you hearing the most?

There were actually two comments that I heard that reinforced the concept. One is the potential for [one set of] seafood processing standards as opposed to multiple certifications, and that principally came out of Southeast Asia. The amount of time that people spend preparing for [audits] is onerous, and the [GSA] processing standards are viewed as an opportunity to get beyond that. [The GSA Seafood Processing Standards are available for public comment through July 1. They are the first and only seafood-specific processing plants standards for both farmed and wild seafood that address environmental responsibility, social responsibility, animal health and food safety.]

The other is the potential to collaborate on traceability and whatever form or shape that takes, and for GSA to convene people in that space and maybe come up with an industry-wide solution. Overall, we’re getting very specific feedback. That’s a sign in itself that we’re headed down the right path, because these are immediate solutions to challenges that people face.

Conversely, are there misperceptions about the concept of GSA that you would like to clarify?

Yes, one is the sense that GSA will create new standards where credible standards currently exist. That’s not going to happen. GSA is interested in seeing credible standards exist through the full production chain in aquaculture and fisheries. Two is the sense that GSA will lead to harmonization. There is concern that GSA will monopolize or in some way influence the work of credible certification programs. That’s not going to happen, either. GSA will represent the work of credible programs to the extent they can be linked together in the supply chain.

What puts GAA in a position to spearhead the formation of GSA and initially fund its operations?

It speaks to the evolution of GAA. We’re in a position now to launch such a concept, [but] we wouldn’t have been in a position 10 years ago to do this. We would like to think that GAA is a trusted authority in the aquaculture space and that it advocates for responsible practices and the growth of the industry, and over time we have seen the marketplace respond to that. We have the same interest for fisheries that we do for aquaculture in that at the end of the day we want people to eat more seafood. GSA is not intended to influence consumers directly. Its interest is to assure the marketplace that its seafood supply is as free of risk as possible [whether it relates to] the environment, workers, animals or food safety.

Speaking of workers, how will GSA address the need to improve social conditions aboard fishing vessels as well as cooperate with existing initiatives that are trying to do the same?

It has begun with the memorandum of understanding that GAA signed with Seafish on April 24 to manage its Responsible Fishing Scheme.

How would you compare the emergence of GAA’s Best Aquaculture Practices certification program 15 years ago to the emergence of GSA today? Are there any comparisons?

I think there are analogies. BAP was created out of industry acknowledging that they own issues relative to what they’re doing, and that we need to come up with solutions based on credible science. At the end of the day, we need to come up with solutions. We don’t need to come up with the dialogue. And BAP is a product and example of that. I think we have the skill sets at GAA that relate to the work that needs to be done to address the gaps in fisheries certification and align with credible certification programs.

Our interests are in defining best practices in aquaculture and fisheries as opposed to defending existing practices. We’re looking to appreciate the people who are doing the right thing, and that appreciation takes the form of certification. It’s ‘defining the industry.’

What do you mean by ‘defining the industry?’

It’s positive affirmation of the work that’s underway. It’s not always perfect work, but it’s an acceptance that the industry and its stakeholders are on a journey of doing things in a more responsible way.

In His Own Words: Wally Stevens Talks Global Seafood Assurances