The coming challenges to seafood

From 2015, NZ exports to the EU will most likely be subject to new traceability & consumer labelling regulations under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

From 2015, NZ exports to the EU will most likely be subject to new traceability & consumer labelling regulations under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

Everyone knows that New Zealand is surrounded by ocean.  Our long coastline gives us the world’s sixth largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It is a curious fact that 95 percent of this country is technically under water.

By Gary Hartley of GS1 New Zealand

It’s another fact that seafood harvested from our EEZ is a $1.6 billion export industry. Our seafood – mainly wild caught but also some farmed salmon and shellfish – is eaten by people in over 110 countries.

But it seems that there is far more we need to know about the EEZ and its fisheries. The government has just launched a five-year scientific research programme called the Sustainable Seas Challenge, with an eye to growing our “marine economy” and to ensuring New Zealand is a world leader on sustainable marine production (seafood and perhaps minerals) and on oceans stewardship.  The programme should yield a wealth of new knowledge about fish stocks, marine eco-systems, water quality and seabed resources.

Actually, we are not the only ones wanting to know more about the fish bounty from New Zealand’s EEZ – European consumers of our seafood want more facts as well – facts that are commercial rather than scientific, but in a much shorter timeframe than the five years of the Sustainable Seas Challenge.

From the start of 2015, New Zealand exports to the European Union will most likely be subject to new traceability and consumer labelling regulations under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. The latter is a comprehensive regime for fish and aquaculture products from catch/harvesting through to retail sale.

The new regulations have some exemptions for seafood imported with EU-issued “catch certification”, and the traceability and labelling responsibilities fall explicitly on the European importers rather than exporters from New Zealand or elsewhere. However, as the NZ Seafoods Standards Council points out, it is hard to see how those importers can comply with the rules unless they themselves receive the information required from suppliers including those at the very start the supply chain (e.g. a fishing vessel in our EEZ).

The principal new regulations are known as EC 1224/2009 – dealing specifically with traceability information exchanged between businesses – and EU 1379/2013 which is concerned with mandatory consumer information. Between these two sets of rules, there are 13 key data elements that seem to be required for any consignment of seafood on the European market, ranging from a lot number to identification of fish species to the type of fishing gear. Plenty of detail!

Dates become critical – the traceability data set includes a catch or harvest (in the case of aquaculture) date for each lot of seafood (identified also by its species, vessel or production unit, and supplier), while the consumer information includes dates of minimum durability where these are appropriate (and also information on whether the product was ever frozen and defrosted).  The labelling requirements even include data on the type of fishing gear used.

So why is the EU going down this route? First, seafood is only one of a range of food categories attracting closer scrutiny on traceability and mandatory consumer issues in Europe for food safety, biosecurity and other reasons. Second, regulators and consumers there have concerns with the worldwide pressure on wild fisheries – sustainability is simply a much bigger concern in Europe than Asia (which has the world’s biggest fish catching and eating countries).

It is another fact that New Zealand has a great story for the seafood consuming Europeans.  Official data show, for example, that our wild catch fish yield per square km of EEZ is a small fraction of what comparable nations take from the sea (most notably Norway, Chile and Japan). Our total wild fish harvest was been trending down since the late 1990s. New Zealand is justifiably seen to be strong on sustainable fisheries management.

Our biggest seafood export destinations are, not surprisingly, China, Australia and the United States. However Spain, France and Germany are sizeable markets, and Europe as a region accounted for sales of around $212 million in 2012.

The EU’s new seafood traceability and labelling requirements will have to be reckoned with by at least some New Zealand exporters in 2015 and beyond.

And actually, the new rules should add value to our fish exports by helping highlight New Zealand’s strengths on marine sustainability in a world of increasing demand for seafood but increasing constraint on its supply. The government’s new Sustainable Seas Challenge should pull New Zealand in the same direction.

There’s still more good news – GS1 has and continues to develop global standards for the seafood identification, labelling and data exchange to support compliance with the new EU requirements. And needless-to-say, those standards are available to a New Zealand fishing industry which is no stranger to GS1 supply chain standards more generally.