Today finds me in Dubai, on the hot, humid coast of the Arabian Sea. My hotel has a dozen larger-than-life statues of golden Arabian horses, in fiery poses so typical of this breed, adorning the front grassy entryway.
I am here with a thousand other people gathered by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to discuss the future of the world.
The participants are of every imaginable background: scientists, like me, but also policymakers, mediators, businesspeople and politicians. I am lucky that the language of the forum is English, though I hear every accent possible. The WEF has convened us to discuss the issues, and corresponding solution, facing the world today. In the conference hall I see signs outside booths with phrases like “the future of women, the media, Africa, health care,” you name it. I am here as a member of the Global Agenda Council on Oceans.
The mission of the WEF is to “improve the state of the world” — a massive task — but I am heartened to see the commitment, passion and knowledge represented in all the people attending.
We on the oceans council have worked for four years on several initiatives. First, we endorsed the Ocean Health Index, which was launched this past year under the leadership of CI. Through the WEF and their many business partners, we are now working on a project to improve the global traceability of seafood.
Knowing exactly where seafood comes from and where it is processed and shipped is key to sustainability. The world has already mastered tracing most food products, but seafood lags far behind.
The benefit of a robust traceability program is that if seafood is caught in unsustainable or illegal ways, it can be declined by purchasers. As it stands now, illegally caught seafood can easily enter the supply chain, stores and ultimately on your plate.It is estimated that at least 20% of global fish catch results from illegal, unreported or unregulated practices.
A global traceability program would ultimately entail putting electronic tags on fish once they are caught; at every point of shipment or processing, the tag will be annotated with new information. Then when it arrives at its final destination, the tag will produce a report for the consumer that details its entire history from the point of capture.
One of my fellow council members owns a seafood company. I told him I lived in Hawaii and asked him what kind of route a yellowfin tuna that is caught in Hawaii might take. He smiled and said that first it may well be caught be a Taiwanese fishing boat, then taken back to Taiwan frozen where it will be packaged and possibly shipped to somewhere in the mainland U.S., such as Los Angeles. From LA it could be shipped back to Hawaii, where it would be sold in a grocery store with Taiwan as point of origin. But there would be no way for the consumer or retailer to know all this without a traceability program.
Soon I will board an airplane and fly nonstop for over 15 hours to LA. The plane route will take me nearly over the North Pole, as it did on the way over. Flights like these make me realize what a small world we live on, and how important it is that we steward or limited resources, especially those that come from the ocean that covers 70% of our planet.
Greg Stone is CI’s chief scientist for oceans.