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By  Ruth Dawkins 15 June 2023 5 min read

Key points

  • A multi-year initiative aims to minimize disruptions in seafood supply chains by building resilience and preparedness among industry stakeholders.
  • Key attributes that enable resilience in seafood supply chains include diversity, broad participation and openness to learning.
  • Understanding stakeholder perspectives and conducting industry engagement proved critical.

Minimising seafood supply chain disruption is the goal of a multi-year initiative. Our goal is to build capability and help seafood industry stakeholders prepare for disruption.

The new research, published in the international journal Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, is part of our Valuing Sustainability Future Science Platform.

Lead author Dr Roshni Subramaniam said the project has had a big picture focus to engage with stakeholders in seafood supply chains. They've tapped that network through workshops and interviews, seeking perspectives on resilience and sustainability.

“We can then co-produce models and indicators with stakeholders that will support informed decision making within the industry,” said Roshni.

Why are resilient and sustainable seafood supply chains so important?

A 2022 report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) found seafood is increasingly being recognised for its key role in food security and nutrition. In 2020, fisheries and aquaculture production reached an all-time record of 214 million tonnes, worth about US$424 billion.

However, the global seafood industry is also subject to a range of external disruptions, including climate change, geopolitical instability and market changes. These can sometimes threaten the ability of producers to meet demand, as well as having social and environmental implications.

Within Australia, the seafood supply chain transports around 340,000 tonnes of produce each year. Key fisheries include rock lobster, oysters and barramundi. Each fishery faces unique challenges and potential disruptions across the supply chain. This stretches from production and harvest through to processing, export and wholesale and all the way through to retail and consumption.

Building the resilience of these supply chains is vital for ensuring their future security, strength and ability to adapt.

Maintaining sustainable seafood supply chains requires collaborative approaches.

Why research seafood supply chains?

Our Future Science Platforms (FSP) are multi-year, multi-disciplinary initiatives that represent a significant investment in science and innovation. 

The Valuing Sustainability FSP is working to develop cutting edge science that will lead to positive outcomes for land, water, biodiversity and people. The platform consists of seven targeted and linked research projects which bring together our researchers with a diverse range of partners and stakeholders.

One of the seven projects is Resilience + sustainability of socio-ecological networks, also known as Resilience+. Researchers working in this project area are focusing on seafood supply chains.

Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas is the Project Lead for Resilience+.

“The researchers in the FSP who are working in the marine space discussed what some of the most topical, forward-looking questions might be that we could address,” said Jess.

“Society’s dependence on seafood and perceptions of seafood are changing quite quickly and will continue to do so, influenced by the expansion of the ‘Blue Economy’ and increased aquaculture in different parts of the ocean.”

Seafood supply chains were disrupted in quite pronounced ways through the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also vulnerable to events like marine heatwaves.

“So, this seems like an important research area to focus on, with a view to developing approaches that could potentially be applied across other food supply systems too,” said Jess.

We are working collaboratively to ensure that seafood supply chain futures can be adaptive, sustainable and resilient.

What are the key findings in the research?

The disruptions – which included such diverse events such as floods and marine heatwaves, fisheries mismanagement, and COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns – occurred in different places and across a range of timescales.

Roshni explored how supply chains responded to each disruption, and whether the impacts positively or negatively impacted sustainability. This mapping exercise allowed her to identify the attributes of seafood supply chains that enabled resilience. She also considered the implications for sustainability efforts.  

“From our literature search, we found a paper proposing seven principles for enabling resilience in socio-ecological systems,” said Roshni.

“When applied to seafood supply chains, these principles have key elements. They involve diversity which ensures there are alternative pathways during disruptions. Connectivity is emphasized, enabling information sharing across the supply chain. Broad participation encourages active engagement among stakeholders in management and governance. Lastly, being open to learning and experimentation promotes adaptability as needed. These principles aim to enhance the resilience and sustainability of seafood supply chains.”

Perhaps the key finding is that attributes for building resilience in a supply chain also contribute to social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

The detailed case study on Pacific oysters highlights increased collaboration, site diversification, and improved ecosystem monitoring. These measures, implemented after the POMS outbreak in 2015-2016, will help sustain the industry in the future despite potential disruptions.

CSIRO researchers Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas and Dr Roshni Subramaniam have been engaging with the seafood industry to understand practices.

What comes next?

Our researchers have a strong and well-established history of working collaboratively with Australia’s rock lobster and oyster industries. That work will continue with the Resilience+ research project.

“How we as researchers perceive resilience and sustainability may be different to stakeholders directly involved in their supply chain,” said Roshni.

“As part of the project, we have conducted a stakeholder survey of around 100 participants. We asked about their understanding of resilience and sustainability and explored their perceptions of their own industry supply chains.”

The next step is to merge the perspectives from the survey with the research undertaken by Roshni and conduct a round of industry engagement workshops.

“We already know there are a few standout issues,” said Jess. “Climate change is on nearly everyone’s radar, but there are also concerns coming out around other environmental issues, for example, market demand and labour.

“We’ll be using the workshops to focus on what information might be needed to support decision making to respond to risks, as well as where those decisions are taking place, and on what timescales.”

“Responding to disruption in a sustainable way is complex, but not impossible,” said Roshni.

“We’ve highlighted pathways towards building seafood supply chains that are both resilient and sustainable from what we’ve learnt from the literature. Our analysis of responses to seafood supply disruption additionally demonstrates how resilient many of the people working within seafood supply chains already are. There are a lot of opportunities for us to utilise what we’ve learnt as we work towards a more sustainable future.”

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