What work does the Sustainable Seafood program do?
In 2009, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) created the Sustainable Seafood program to advance economic and ecologic sustainability of the Gulf of Maine seafood industry. GMRI does this by working with industry leaders across the seafood supply chain to build market demand and empower consumers to find and buy seafood from the Gulf of Maine region, which spans from Nova Scotia to Cape Cod. The following programs and projects support growth under Goal I of the Maine Food Strategy Framework:
The Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested® ecolabel program empowers consumers to buy Gulf of Maine seafood they can feel good about because it meets science-based criteria around responsible harvest. Licensed suppliers are also required to provide evidence of third party audits focused on traceability, giving consumers assurance that the seafood is from the Gulf of Maine region.
The Sustainable Seafood Consultation program integrates scientific, project management, and business expertise to inform and help manage a company’s sustainable seafood policy and implementation.
Through the Culinary Partners program, GMRI partners with area restaurants to promote responsibly harvested seafood from fishermen and purveyors from the Gulf of Maine.
The Trawl to Table events were piloted in 2012 as an effort to bring information about how the industry fishes in the Gulf of Maine to seafood dealers, restaurants, retailers, and others involved in buying and selling seafood. These interactive events include stations on gear technology and fishing practices, quality handling, tours at fish auctions and processors, and fisheries management.
The Sustainable Seafood program has an annual budget of $450,000 and three full-time employees: a Sustainable Seafood Project Manager, Sustainable Seafood Program Manager, and a Sustainable Seafood Senior Program Manager.
How well is the Sustainable Seafood program doing the work?
The Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested® program has maintained or increased its partnerships since the program’s inception. As of 2018, the Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested program had grown to 37 partners: 8 licensed suppliers, 24 universities, schools, and hospitals, and 3 large food service companies (Sysco, The Abbey Group, and Sodexo). GMRI is currently looking at how to expand the Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested program to allow space for local farmed shellfish and seaweed to participate.
Initially, GMRI charged a royalty fee to processors that sold Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested seafood. Two years ago, when that became prohibitive for smaller processors, GMRI transitioned from requiring a royalty fee to requesting a voluntary charitable contribution. As a result, smaller processors have been able to use the label.
Partnering with large food service companies gives GMRI the opportunity to have a bigger impact. In 2015, the Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested program developed a partnership with Sodexo and the 11 campuses it serves in Maine. Sodexo committed to shifting the fresh whitefish at all of its accounts in Maine to be Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested 100% of the time by 2020. In 2017, Sysco Northern New England (NNE) joined and made a commitment to increase sourcing of Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested seafood by 10%. After surpassing that goal, Sysco NNE recommitted to continuing the work. In 2018, the Abbey Group signed onto the Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested program. The Abbey Group serves food in 150 public schools in NH, VT, and NY. More than 115,000 students are currently seeing responsibly-harvested seafood in dining halls around New England. GMRI sees working with universities and schools as an exciting opportunity to influence the consumer habits of the younger generation and educate them about the range of seafood available in the Gulf of Maine region.
The biggest impediment to growing the Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested program further is securing funding because it is a long-term program. The program currently has one FTE whose responsibilities also include other projects. Additionally, outside factors like fisheries management changes or larger market forces impact the region-wide seafood values and volumes that GMRI tracks.
Since starting in 2013, the Culinary Partners program has grown to 24 restaurant partners who commit to always having Gulf of Maine seafood on their menus. This program grew out of promotional campaigns that GMRI did in partnership with local restaurants to highlight underutilized species such as pollock, redfish, whiting, mackerel, and dogfish.
GMRI’s Trawl to Table events continue to be a critical way for GMRI to get people involved in the supply chain more excited about buying more seafood from this region and to understand the positive impact they can have. 400 fishermen, processors, distributors, chefs, retailers, and others in the seafood industry have attended the events since 2012.
To gain visibility, GMRI does outreach events and has a significant media presence. The Seafood team did 36 speaking engagements and events in 2018. There were 273 mentions or features of GMRI in seafood-related news articles over the course of 2018.
Is anyone better off?
The Sustainable Seafood program has positively impacted Goal 1 of the Maine Food Strategy Framework. The following data was reported in the 2018 Annual Report:
$93 million of Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested seafood sold by partners since 2011.
7% increase in Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested landings volume since the program began. Landings of under-harvested species like dogfish and whiting have grown an average of 103%.
78% increase in Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested landings value since the program began. Additionally, the value of dogfish, redfish, and whiting has increased an average of 159%.
82% of the fresh white fish served by Sodexo on 11 campuses in Maine is now Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested, an increase from almost zero in 2015.
16% increase in Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested seafood sold by Sysco Northern New England to their 3,000+ customers in ME, NH, and VT in 2018.
400 people have attended a Trawl to Table event since 2012. Half of attendees reported that they planned to follow up on a new business connection post-event. 60% of restaurant and food service staff reported a major shift in their efforts to source significantly more seafood from the Gulf of Maine
26 regional companies are committed to supplying Hannaford’s Local seafood program.
Hannaford consistently carries 20-25 Local seafood items.
In 2018, Hannaford’s Local seafood sales were up 8%.
Nearly 2,000 Stores belonging to the U.S. grocery chains owned by Ahold Delhaize are assisted on their sustainable seafood sourcing policy after GMRI expanded its partnership with the parent company.
200+ people attended the 2018 Seafood Celebration at GMRI.
79 people attended the Future of Seafood: Nourishing the World Conference co-hosted by GMRI and the Museum of Science in Boston.
“Because of all the challenges fishermen have, we as consumers need to be ready to eat what the ocean provides and what fishermen are able to catch from a regulatory perspective. If we can be flexible as customers, that’s the thing that is probably the most helpful to the fishing industry. I think we’ve moved the needle on that front,” shared Kyle Foley, Sustainable Seafood Program Manager.
Contact: Kyle Foley, Sustainable Seafood Program Manager