Changing the Tide

Why consumer engagement is crucial to building a more sustainable seafood supply

Mornings at Coast Guard Station Beach on St. Simons Island are usually tranquil. But on one particular Tuesday in June, the sounds of the sea are joined by the bustle of people engaged in the work of removing trash from the picturesque stretch of coast. 

Sponsored by Morey’s Seafood and SeaPak Shrimp & Seafood, two of Rich Products’ consumer brands, the beach cleanup represents both companies’ renewed focus on bridging the gap between long-term ocean conservation efforts and community awareness. By the time the day is over, volunteers will have collected 47 pounds of trash. And while this might not seem like a lot when you consider the massive amount of garbage and plastics circulating through the ocean, those involved understand that it is a small step with big implications.

“Every year, 11 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans”

A Problem and a Pledge

Every year, 11 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans, impacting a variety of ecosystems and species, from fish to marine mammals and seafaring birds. As a provider of high-quality seafood through Morey’s and SeaPak, Rich’s understands the importance of spearheading sustainability and conservation efforts. That’s why, in 2020, Rich’s partnered with the Ocean Conservancy to tackle the issue head-on.

“Every year, 11 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans”

“We had a list of about 10 organizations that we were thinking about partnering with. What we really liked about the Ocean Conservancy was all the different programs they offer. It really allows us to pick the best fit for our organization,” said Suzanne Wolke, marketing manager for Rich Products and brand manager for Morey’s Seafood. 

For Wolke, bolstering sustainability efforts is a passion project. Working out of Rich’s corporate office on St. Simons Island and living on Amelia Island in Florida, the ocean figures prominently in both her work and personal life. It is only fitting that she now serves as Rich’s point person for all things seafood sustainability-related. 

“I’m loving it,” she said, referring to the role that sees her doing everything from engaging with consumers to working with Morey’s and SeaPak’s procurement teams to ensure the companies’ products are responsibly sourced. 

However, the work isn’t without its challenges. Generally speaking, seafood has a lower carbon footprint than land-based food, which is why there are a growing number of initiatives urging consumers to eat more seafood. By 2030, it’s estimated that about 40 million tons of seafood will be required to meet increasing consumer demand. Yet, marine populations have decreased by 49% since the 1970s, with popular consumer species such as tuna dropping by 74%. 

To protect our oceans and safeguard the supply of seafood for the future, Morey’s and SeaPak must certify that all their products are sustainably sourced. This means that each company’s procurement team has to abide by the guidelines set by different independent, third-party organizations while scaling its business to meet growing demand. 

In addition to the tremendous work that goes into its sustainability efforts, one of Morey’s and SeaPak’s biggest challenges is figuring out ways to educate the public on why those efforts are important and encourage them to make more sustainable choices. 

“A lot of times, people make their purchase decisions at the shelf. We try to put as much information on the packaging as possible so people know they’re making a more sustainable choice. But logos can only say so much,” said Wolke. 

In order to get people to make better choices (for themselves and the environment), Wolke and her team have to find new ways to engage them.

Securing Community Buy-In

As part of the Trash Free Seas Initiative, the beach cleanup in St. Simons is just one of the ways Morey’s and SeaPak are trying to raise consumer awareness. The two organizations invited a climate activist and popular TikToker, Caulin Donaldson (AKA, TrashCaulin) to broadcast the effort across social media. Going forward, the companies hope to do more TikTok videos as a way of educating people about sustainability in a fun, engaging way.

“Part of the reason we did this cleanup is that it’s a little more tangible for people to understand that we’re trying to do good in the community. TikTok is also a fun way to get people involved and build excitement around sustainability, especially with the younger generation,” said Wolke.

But social media isn’t the only technology Morey’s and SeaPak employed at the beach cleanup. They also made use of the Clean Swell App to make it easy for cleanup volunteers to record and share how much trash they collect. This not only helped bolster engagement by allowing advocates to see and track their impact over time, but it also connects them to other climate activists and scientists around the world.  

“It’s a good way to feel like you’re making an impact and adding to the global tally,” Wolke said of the value the app provides.

At the St. Simons cleanup, for every piece of trash volunteers collected, they’d open the app, record what they’d collected, and the data would automatically reconcile with the Ocean Conservancy’s global ocean trash database—turning what could have been an isolated local event into an international one in a matter of seconds. 

The Importance of Educating the Consumer

While Morey’s and SeaPak plan to do more beach cleanups, these events are only part of the companies’ $100,000 pledge to the Ocean Conservancy. 

The bulk of that work happens far from where consumer eyes can see it. But it’s important that they know about it and how their decisions impact the environment—especially because there are so many options out there when it comes to seafood, and not all of them are responsibly sourced or sustainable. 

In the 1980s, most seafood was wild-caught. Since then the industry has shifted towards aquaculture or farm-raised products (salmon, tuna, shrimp, etc.)—a practice Rich’s and its two consumer brands have wholeheartedly embraced as the future of sustainability.

“You can’t just have wild-caught. People are eating too much seafood to get by on it,” said Wolke. 

And yet misconceptions about wild-caught seafood versus farm-raised abound.

For example, while wild-caught seafood like salmon, tuna, and shrimp can sometimes be more flavorful than farm-raised, the quality and flavor profile is less consistent. The supply of wild-caught seafood is also unpredictable and beholden to seasonality. And this doesn’t even account for the issue of bycatch

“With a lot of wild seafood, you’re really limited by the season as to what you can catch. Aquaculture allows us to provide consumers with a fresh supply of seafood year-round,” said Wolke. 

And while farm-raised seafood isn’t a perfect solution—irresponsible operations can actually add to the issues of pollution and overfishing the practice is supposed to reduce—Wolke and her team understand that it plays an important role in balancing wild-caught seafood by adding more consistency, flexibility, and resources. 

That’s why, along with organizing beach cleanups like the one this past June, Rich’s, Morey’s, and SeaPak are also taking steps to introduce aquaculture to local communities and optimize farms where they already exist. These efforts are not only crucial to achieving sustainability goals, but they also create equity and opportunity in local fishing communities around the world. 

As part of their Fishery Improvement Project, the three organizations seek out local fisheries that aren’t quite up to standard or meeting the BAP’s Best Aquaculture Standards and work to get them where they need to be. 

“We invest money and resources to get them up to standard and eventually purchase the fish and shrimp they produce. We’re helping them create farms, create jobs, and, ultimately, create high-quality seafood that other companies will buy as well.”

The Big Picture

The work that Rich’s, Morey’s, and SeaPak are doing to ensure that future generations have access to the highest quality seafood is commendable. But it stands for naught if it doesn’t impact the consumer at the point of sale. 

“Consumer purchasing power is very important,” said Wolke. “The decision they make at the shelf, that’s what’s going to keep companies doing the right thing.”