The ocean stewardship initiative targeting systemic change: SeaBOS

  • The Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS) initiative was set up in 2016 and coordinated by the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.
  • SeaBOS aims to try and transform global seafood production and make it more sustainable, protecting the long-term health of the oceans.
  • The initiative connects ‘keystone actors’ in the global seafood system such as marine scientists, seafood companies, fisheries and those in aquaculture.
  • These keystone actors work together to tackle problems such as forced labour, marine plastics and overfishing by creating and lobbying for systemic measures like supranational regulation and traceability technologies.
  • It simultaneously seeks to address seven of the Global Goals, including life below water (Global Goal 14), decent work and economic growth (Global Goal 8) and responsible production and consumption (Global Goal 12).

For a corporate sustainability strategy to be really effective, it needs to include collaboration with other businesses, organisations and government to tackle the big systemic problems – like climate change and social injustice – which will ultimately help build the overall resilience of society and the environment upon which the business depends. But most fall well short of this ambition. In 2016, the Stockholm Resilience Centre helped set up the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS) initiative to pioneer a collaborative, systemic approach to improving the health of the world’s oceans.

SeaBOS’s mission is ‘to lead a global transformation towards sustainable seafood production and a healthy ocean’. The idea is that a minority of powerful actors can influence a majority of smaller actors and foment change on a global and systemic scale. So SeaBOS brings together leading scientists, government bodies, fisheries, feed producers and other major aquaculture businesses from across the globe to work together and harness their individual and collective influence to improve the socio-ecological resilience of the world’s oceans.

So far, ten of the world’s largest seafood companies participating in the initiative – Maruha Nichiro Corporation, Nissui, Thai Union, Mowi, Dongwon Industries, Cermaq, Cargill Aqua Nutrition, Nutreco/Skretting, CP Foods, and Kyokuyo – have committed to time-bound goals for a healthy ocean and agreed to develop and implement sustainable practices within their global supply chains. This includes recycling and reducing plastic and adopting new tracing technology, successfully trialled by SeaBOS, which combats illegal fishing and slave labour. These ten businesses alone represent over 10% of the world’s seafood production and over 600 subsidiary companies, so it is clear to see how collaborating with these organisations can have a significant impact on the wider seafood sector.

Stewardship is at the heart of socio-ecological resilience initiatives like SeaBOS. Everyone on the planet has a responsibility to protect the health of society and the planet for centuries to come, but this is a particular challenge for businesses where a culture of short-termism and profiteering is common. SeaBOS encourages companies who depend on the world’s oceans to generate their income to look beyond short-term profit and instead focus on the intrinsic value of the oceans and the role these businesses (which depend on the health of the oceans to survive) can take in protecting the future health of the seas and their own companies.

SeaBOS is already seeing the benefits of this exciting collaboration. A newly published research paper, ‘Scientific mobilization of keystone actors for biosphere stewardship’, explains how bringing together the scientific and business community has led to a host of positive outcomes such as new knowledge and trust, a joint agenda for action and increased influence on supranational laws and marine policy. The paper goes on to explore how by 2021 the programme had become a ‘transformation agency through learning, collaboration and innovation’ which is continuing to benefit businesses, people and the planet.