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Point of View: Responsibility has no limits

Dawn Martin
Dawn Martin
February 01, 2011

This past year, we heard an unprecedented amount of unfortunate news about the ocean and life within it. This news has also had a dramatic impact on the people dependent upon the ocean and its health. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill consumed our attention for months. Other stories of oil spills in China and Australia sent news about additional threats to an already comprised ocean ecosystem. Worldwide coral bleaching events, failure to protect critically endangered species and the continued expansion of invasive species like lionfish also made headlines. So what will 2011 hold? And, more importantly, what can we do to inspire more positive headlines and positive results for our ocean?

Concern about the safety and availability of seafood was a consistent story line in the media this past year, prompted in the United States in no small part by the challenges in the Gulf. However, the story is much more complex, and much more global than events at any one location, however compelling the crisis du jour may be. Ultimately, it is a story about responsibility — a responsibility that has no borders and one we must all share. 

The challenge of providing a safe and abundant sustainable seafood supply has proved more complex than any one region, country or group can resolve. Seafood is a global commodity and part of our global commons. As such it is our collective responsibility to thoughtfully and collaboratively manage this valuable resource.  The scope of this responsibility is enormous, the politics daunting and the economics critical. So, it is just this challenge that underlies the theme of the ninth international Seafood Summit held recently in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  

SeaWeb chose “Responsibility Without Borders” as the focus for this year’s annual gathering. The theme was chosen in part to reflect the growing imperative to acknowledge and act on the connectivity of the marine industries and communities to the ocean. We are connected by sector, by environmental and social issues, by economic drivers and — in this most international of industries — by emerging needs. Collectively we must better understand our role in addressing common imperatives such as food security, the effects of excess carbon emissions on the ocean and the benefits of good cohesive management to negate damaging ecosystem impacts. 

As the industry and seafood conservation movement have matured together, we have increasingly had to challenge the scope of our collective responsibility in these arenas. Whereas the health of fish stocks might have been the extent of our concern in years gone by, in a few short years we have grown to better understand the need to think more comprehensively about systems. As a result, the “borders” of thinking about what constitutes “our” responsibility have shifted quite dramatically. 

We tend to think in geo-political terms when discussing borders. In the fisheries sector, we can no longer afford to think so literally. In the complex global marketplace that the seafood industry occupies, it is worth remembering that we are all residents of the “global village” that author and visionary Marshall McLuhan first noted nearly 50 years ago.  

As such, our losses as well as our gains need to be considered in borderless, boundless ways. We are all stewards of not only our global village, but also our global ocean.  

So, as we think about headlines we’d like to see in the coming year, what is the border of your responsibility now and how can you, and should you, continue to test that? We need to think about continually pushing our edge a little further so that we can turn some of these stories around to celebrate collective responsibility and good management and generate more positive stories. Whether as a harvester, supplier, distributor, retailer, restaurant or consumer, we all have a vested interest in the outcome of this story that history will tell. 


Dawn Martin is president of SeaWeb, the only nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to strategic communication of ocean issues including sustainable seafood, which is pursued through the work of its Seafood Choices team. 

February 2011 - SeaFood Business 

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