The sustainable seafood movement is at a crossroads. Its core strategy, also known as a theory of change, is based on market-oriented initiatives such as third-party certification but does not motivate adequate levels of improved governance and environmental improvements needed in many fisheries, especially in developing countries. Price premiums for certified products are elusive, multiple forms of certification compete in a crowded marketplace and certifiers are increasingly asked to address social as well as ecological goals. This paper traces how the sustainable seafood movement has evolved over time to address new challenges while success remains limited. We conclude by exploring four alternative potential outcomes for the future theory of change, each with different contributions to creating a more sustainable global seafood supply.
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The authors would like to thank those from the global seafood industry who we interviewed for their valuable insights, as well as the participants of a special session at 2015 NAAFE Forum in Ketchikan, Alaska, and participants of the small-scale near-shore fisheries workshop hosted by the UC Davis Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute in June 2016. We thank C. Zou for research assistance. We also thank K. Lee, S. Hogan and M. Levine who provided valuable feedback and insights throughout the project. This work was supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (grant no. 2015-40719).
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