Dawn M. Martin was appointed executive director of SeaWeb in 2004 and became president and chairwoman of the board in 2006. Before joining SeaWeb she worked for Oceana, served in the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton Administration and was with the American Oceans Campaign. SeaWeb was created by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 1995 and was originally called the Marine Conservation Initiative.

Q: What do you view as the takeaway from SeaWeb’s 2015 Seafood Summit?

As there were several important takeaways from the summit this year, I will mention two that have been repeated quite often during the last few days.

The first takeaway would be the focus on collaboration aimed at solving problems, rather than just talking about them and/or pointing fingers. This year the discussions really emphasized the need to make sure that we had the right people in the room to advance key issues.

Historically, one group that has been underrepresented in these discussions has been the producers, both the wild capture fishing communities and the fish farmers.

In order to ensure greater diversity of participants, SeaWeb established a Summit Scholars Program that enabled us to provide direct support to ensure the participation of fishers and groups whose approach to sustainable fisheries includes promoting community development and empowerment of the fishers and their families.

As an example, we were able to support Lance Nacio, a Gulf shrimp fisherman, to attend the summit as a SeaWeb Scholar this year. His level of engagement was quite significant, from adding an important perspective to the panels and weighing in on the sidebar conversations to leading a field trip for participants to witness firsthand his shrimping operation. I hope we can strive to have greater engagement by the fisher community next year in Malta, given the significance of the Maltese fishery in the European Union.

The second takeaway I’d like to mention is that at the last summit, in Hong Kong, FishWise held a workshop on the key mechanisms needed to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud that served as a kick-off to a collaborative effort that came to fruition in New Orleans. Along the way Highliner Foods, National Fisheries Institute, and representatives of the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud joined the effort. This unique collaboration became an important part of this year’s workshop which advanced agreement on key data elements for traceability and provided a timely opportunity to discuss implementation of the task force recommendations with representatives from the task force.

Q: What differences do you find between summits in the U.S. and abroad?

Given that the summit started in the U.S., we have a core base of participants that view it as an essential element of their sustainability strategy. We are also able to attract a strong group of participants from the EU, given the leadership role that Europe has played on this issue historically and the fact that we have previously hosted summits in Barcelona and Paris. The last summit before New Orleans was held in Hong Kong, specifically to help build greater participation from Asia and to try to influence that important market.

While we have previously been able to attract participants from Asia, the Hong Kong Summit was the first major event focused on sustainable seafood in China, and the receptivity was quite strong. We clearly have a lot more work to do to develop a base of support in Asia but given the global nature of the fisheries market, we tend to get a good geographic mix wherever the summit is held.

It is, however, critical that we continue to strive to reach underrepresented geographies and sectors, such as the fishing community, in order to advance solution-oriented dialogue and to ensure better managed fisheries worldwide. Each location where we host a summit brings with it different challenges, as well as opportunities that are important for us to explore.
Q: How has the summit evolved since you started; in other words, what’s different, then and now?

The New Orleans Seafood Summit was our 11th, and many of the participants noted the evolution of the summit in their remarks, commenting specifically on the dramatic shift in the tone of the debate. I think this reflects the maturing of the movement, in addition to a concerted effort to move the discussion away from a platform to highlight the problems to a focus on collaborations — the purpose of which is to seek solutions.

In the earliest days, the concept of sustainability was just beginning to take hold, and our efforts were aimed at shifting the focus away from wildlife protection campaigns for fisheries to efforts aimed at making the “ocean-to-plate” connection. SeaWeb’s market research taught us that the way to get people/decision makers to address fisheries management in a productive, lasting way was to focus on fish as seafood.

Once that focus was established, we intentionally directed our efforts on integrating the other seafood stakeholders into the summit, such as scientists, the seafood supply chain, governments and the media. Today, we are able to focus less on the makeup of the convention itself and are now able to turn our attention to ensuring that we have robust solution-oriented dialogues that attract the right players to advance the issues.

Q: What goes through your mind when you contemplate distressed fisheries, such as New England groundfish?

That the social, environmental and economic impacts of fishery management decisions are inextricably linked. The integration of these essential components is a topic this summit has also helped put on the table for discussion. We need to talk about some of the negative social impacts of fishing, like forced labor, but we also have to recognize the positive social impacts fisheries provide communities and regions in terms of economics and food security.

The debate has changed significantly from the earlier days, and now I think everyone agrees that the goal is to have well managed fisheries that meet environmental goals, while also providing for the economic sustainability of the fishing communities that are often most affected by management efforts.
Q: What is the level of seafood/fishing industry participation? What are some of the things you do to attract industry to events like this?

Historically, we have had good representation from the seafood supply chain but there is always room for growth. On average for the last few years, the breakdown has been about 30 to 40 percent industry, and about the same percentage from the NGOs, with the remaining participants coming from the science, governments and the media.

An important part of our outreach effort is to work with our partners to encourage them to help us promote the summit to their networks, while also seeking opportunities to help them set up side meetings or other events to advance their own programmatic agenda at the summit.

The time and expense of traveling to the summit is something that we always consider and so, if there are ways to help people utilize the summit to meet other related goals, we do our best to accommodate them. We are sensitive to the fact that it is a luxury for many of our participants to be able to come to learn, network and seek solutions to some of the hurdles that they are experiencing on their pathway to sustainability, so we try to encourage opportunities for other business to be conducted while they are there.

Over the years, we have learned that making connections is as an important part of the summit experience, as is the learning from the program.  

Q: You’re in Europe next year. The year after that maybe Asia? From the perspective of American impacts, three years is a long time. Is that something you think about?

We always need to think about our base and how to keep the folks from different regions involved in the summit. While we tend to draw a significant amount of our participants from the local country/region where the summit is held, we also have geographic diversity from other parts of the globe. For instance, this year we had representation from about 30 countries here in New Orleans, and I expect and hope we will be able to continue to have a strong showing from North America next year in Malta.

There is a lot of integration within the supply chain, and given the importance of the European markets to the producers in the U.S. and Canada, I expect we will see an even more diverse group of participants in Europe.

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