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Networking: Howard Johnson

Director, global programs Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, Seattle

By James Wright
May 01, 2010

 

QUOTE: "I think that people who really get into this business and enjoy it don't ever get away from it. I'd like to think I'm going to slow down one of these days but I'm not sure."

 

For many people in the seafood industry, Howard Johnson needs no introduction, having operated his consulting company, H.M. Johnson & Associates, for the past 20 years. And from 1993 to 2007, Johnson published the exhaustive, statistics-driven book, "Annual Report on the United States Seafood Industry," which was a useful tool for marketers and other researchers. He's now working for Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and, at the International Boston Seafood Show in March, was named a Seafood Champion by Seafood Choices Alliance for his commitment 
to improving practices and awareness of responsibly produced seafood.

JW:What does the Seafood Champions award mean to you?

HJ: I just think that it's a real, I don't want to say honor, that's a little too trite, but a wonderful acknowledgement of what I've been doing and enjoying for the past eight or 10 years.

Why did you join SFP?

I started out doing a little consulting for [company CEO] Jim Cannon when he formed Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. Now it's been four years. Gradually he had me doing more and more things and finally it got to the point where I said, "Look, I'm working for you 110 percent of the time, let's just call it a deal or something."

And what does the director of global programs do?

I sit on airplanes a lot. It really is sort of a catchall [position]. Jim said the reason he wanted to engage me with this is because of my Rolodex - the people that I know. So one of my prime roles has been to communicate with the supply chain, which is what SFP is all about. We meet with companies across the spectrum to talk about sustainability.

How can IUU fishing be stopped?

What we're doing now is looking at ways to help companies ensure the products they're sourcing are legal. We call it our "buy legal" campaign. We did this in Europe with a series of control documents where we empowered the buyers, buying from the same fishery, to buy from companies that agree to conditions for verifying the legality of their catch. If you get enough of that coalition together, it will stop a lot of the illegal fishing because they'll have no place to go with the product.

How prevalent is IUU fishing?

It depends on your definition. In the Gulf of California, the U.S. government has determined that some [shrimp] fishermen were not using their turtle-excluder devices, which is illegal and is essentially a Lacey Act violation, which has serious consequences in this country.

In Russia, where I'm also doing some work with salmon, there's a great deal of poaching going on, obviously illegal. Some Russian crab is flowing through cold storage in Korea, and there's some issues surrounding documentation. It could be possible that crab caught under the Russian quota, legally, has its documentation changed and so it arrives in the United States under a cloud. At the same time, there's some product coming in that's clearly caught outside the Russian quota. There are many forms of illegalities; it's not just pirates.

Is seafood in your blood?

Oh yeah. I think that people who really get into this business and enjoy it don't ever get away from it. I'd like to think I'm going to slow down one of these days, but I'm not sure. I keep telling Jim he's got a five-year plan and I've got a two-year plan, but we'll see.

 

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