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New study suggests retailers can protect biodiversity and profitability

Report draws on project with French retail giant Carrefour to show how overfished species deliver the lowest margins for retailers.

Blue-fin tuna harvest in Eastern Mediterranean,

Blue-fin tuna harvest in Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey. Image via Shutterstock/zaferkizilkaya.

An increase in seafood sustainability matched with greater supply chain disclosure could improve the health of world's oceans while boosting the profitability of major retailers, an investigation by Planet Tracker has found.

In its latest report, "How retailers can be sustainable and profitable in seafood," the think tank highlights how retailers can use its Seafood Sustainability Protocol to assess the sustainability of their seafood products so as to "establish the link between sustainability and profitability."

Planet Tracker based its findings on a case study with French supermarket giant Carrefour, one of the world's largest food retailers, which analyzed over 4 million non-publicly available datapoints on seafood purchases from its French sites.

While demonstrating a positive performance or progress on 11 out of 13 key indicators set out by the Seafood Sustainability Protocol, Carrefour was also found to be generating some of its lowest profitability margins on sales of the most overfished species.

Planet Tracker said the results showed that increased seafood supply chain disclosure, rather than being a cost for retailers, could instead lead to a significant increase in profit for Carrefour.

Increased seafood supply chain disclosure, rather than being a cost for retailers, could instead lead to a significant increase in profit for Carrefour.

"Food retailers hold immense power when it comes to the sustainability of our oceans," said François Mosnier, head of the oceans program at Planet Tracker. "Anyone buying and selling seafood can make a positive impact by channelling demand out of unsustainable farming and overexploited wild stocks into sustainable management and production. Besides being the right thing to do, it's the business-smart thing to do. Our report found significant financial benefits to be gained from sustainable sourcing and enhanced disclosure."

The report calls on seafood retailers to take four actions to enhance the sustainability of their supply chains, including determining "what stage they are at in the seafood sustainability journey" and implement sustainable strategies to make further progress. Planet Tracker also urges retailers to improve the transparency of their seafood supply chains, including setting a time-bound target on full seafood traceability. Retailers should then track and report their progress over time.

The Carrefour case study was conducted in collaboration with BNP Paribas AM and the firm's ESG Analyst and Biodiversity Lead, Robert-Alexandre Poujade, described overfishing as a "socio-environmental threat that the general public is aware of, but investors have not taken enough steps to understand."

"This project by Planet Tracker was born to rectify this," Poujade said. "Most large investors like BNP Paribas Asset Management are exposed to the seafood value chain via downstream actors, such as retailers or catering and need to take measures to reduce their contribution to the problem and preserve marine biodiversity."

The report calls on investors to engage with the companies they fund to demand greater seafood supply chain disclosure, changes to seafood sourcing policies towards more sustainable options, and the setting of "time-bound targets on seafood traceability."

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