Sustainability criteria of Swiss fish imports

Fishers and fish trader in Ghana
Fishers and fish trader in Ghana. Photo: Vanessa Jaiteh

Switzerland, which imports 96% of its fish at a cost of USD 588 million annually, has passed two key seafood-related pieces of legislation in the last decade, following the lead of the European Union. First, it passed a federal law concerning species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). Second, it passed the Ordinance on the control of the lawful origin of imported marine fishery products, which prohibits imports sourced from illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing activities. Beyond these legislative tools, the state does not mandate seafood-related trade restrictions – at least not according to explicit sustainability criteria.

Given the complexity of fisheries and the diverse links between their environmental, ecological, and socio-economic effects, existing legislative and policy measures appear insufficient to support sustainable fisheries production, both nationally and internationally. This gap must be addressed in order for governments – especially those in the North – to fulfil their constitutional and international commitments to sustainable development and universal human rights.

Including social dimensions of sustainability

To ensure that global seafood trade maximizes benefits and minimizes negative effects along the entire seafood supply chain, it is critical to account for both environmental and social indicators of sustainability – especially worker inclusion, equity, and fairness – in corresponding trade measures, domestic regulations, and public sector initiatives.

Taiwanese longliner, Palau
Taiwanese longliner, Palau. Photo: Steve Lindfield

Tracing origins and charting a path forward

The aim of this project is to encourage policymakers to incorporate socio-economic sustainability indicators into risk assessments that inform legislation on Swiss seafood imports and procurement policies.
A twofold objective emerges from this:

  1. to trace the origins of Switzerland’s wild-caught seafood imports and identify major supply chains, and
  2. to identify mandated and voluntary (private sector) sustainability criteria used in procurement decisions; to identify gaps – particularly regarding indicators of socio-economically sustainable production; and to propose ways of integrating social sustainability indicators into public and private fish procurement guidelines supported by relevant policies and legislation.
Artisanal fishing canoe, Ghana.
Artisanal fishing canoe, Ghana. Photo: Vanessa Jaiteh

The project’s concept of seafood sustainability goes beyond the criteria that commonly inform human rights due diligence and corporate social responsibility strategies. Overall, the project assumes a more holistic representation of markers of equity and fairness in fishing, including, for example:

  • small-scale fishers’ market access and their ability to participate in value-adding initiatives;
  • protection of fishers’ and fish workers’ right to organize (into collectives, unions, etc);
  • fair access to, and protection of user rights in fishing grounds;
  • equitable distribution and food and nutrition security in source countries;
  • and global distributors’ commitments and responsibilities to minimize negative socio-economic and environmental impacts in affected fishing communities.

Building on recent and ongoing research

The project builds on recent work by Baumgartner and Bürgi Bonanomi  that identified the need for product differentiation to inform trade measures that support sustainable development. It also complements recent research at CDE that investigates how governments can structure trade relations to promote sustainable and equitable food systems.

Info box
Duration 2023 – 2024
Funding SNSF
Contact Dr. Vanessa Jaiteh