Cargill’s Wathne: Thai fishmeal scandal was driver to join ‘keystone companies’ sustainability drive

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BERGEN, Norway — The lack of knowledge of what was going on in the scandal-hit Thai fishmeal sector was one driver for now Cargill-owned EWOS Group to get involved with the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS), a cooperation between 10 of the largest players in aquaculture, fishing and seafood, said Einar Wathne, CEO of the aqua feed division of the US agribusiness giant.

In 2014, the Guardian revealed slave labor was being used on vessels feeding into the Thai fishmeal industry, ultimately used to feed into the farmed shrimp sector. Wathne’s business, then EWOS Group, before the Cargill deal in 2015, did not know enough, he said, speaking at the 2018 North Atlantic Seafood Forum (NASF) in Bergen, Norway. 

“Asia was a big grey zone and we felt we had very little influence,” he said. “For fishmeal from Thailand, where there were working conditions no one could accept, we were not structured at all to handle it [the scandal].”

In 2016, Wathne was one of eight top sector CEOs who met in the Maldives in the first SeaBOS meeting.

Also at the first meeting were top executives from Japanese seafood conglomerates Maruha Nichiro and Nippon Suisan Kaisha, salmon farmers Marine Harvest and Cermaq, Thai Union Group, South Korea’s Dongwon Enterprise and Skretting, a competitor to Cargill’s EWOS in feed.

Then, in May 2017, the companies met in Sweden. Also, Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Foods and Japan’s Kyokuyo have joined.

The group brings together a diverse range of companies in terms of focus and geography.

“It brings together the western and eastern worlds, fisheries and aquaculture across a variety of species,” said Wathne.

“It is somewhat of an experiment, but we were surprised by the influence we can have. The keystone aspect was new to us,” said Wathne.

The “keystone” term comes from a report led by the University of Stockholm’s Henrik Osterblom, who spoke before Wathne at the NASF.

According to the 2015 report from the researchers, around 10 million metric tons of seafood, or 11-16% of the global marine catch (see below), is controlled by just 13 companies (see the full list above). In addition to the current SeaBOS members, Spain’s Grupo Nueva Pescanova, Norway’s Austevoll Seafood and US-based Trident Seafoods are also on the list, presented by Osterblom at the NASF.

“We got to know each other and found out the areas were are concerned about are the same.”

SeaBOS ties into what Cargill/EWOS is trying to do as a company on sustainability. “What we do as a business, it has limitations. You need to seek networks and collaborations to achieve bigger goals,” he said.

The group has created four task forces to start implementing some of the things that have been discussed, which you can see below.

SeaBOS will have a working meeting in May 2018 and then the third keystone dialogue meeting in September 2018.

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