The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, makes an analogy between the largest companies in seafood industry and keystone species in ecological communities. Keystone species in nature have a profound effect on the structure and function of the ecosystem and disproportionately determine the prevalence and activities of other species. For example just a small number of sea otters can determine urchin numbers, or a few grey wolves determine the size of bison, deer or elk populations.
Likewise, the study found that the average annual revenues of the 160 largest companies in 2012 exhibit a distinct keystone pattern, where the top 10% account for 38 % of total revenues. The identified thirteen companies (box) shape very large marine ecosystems around the world and are involved in both wild capture fisheries and aquaculture, including whitefish, tuna, salmon, shellfish, fishmeal, fish oil, and aqua feeds. Their combined annual revenues correspond to 18% of the global value of seafood production in 2012 (US$ 252 billion).
This handful of corporations (representing 0.5% of 2250 registered fishing and aquaculture companies worldwide) dominate all parts of seafood
production, operate through an extensive global network of subsidiaries and are profoundly involved in fisheries and aquaculture decision-making. Such omnipotence represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the governance of global fisheries.
“The phenomenon of keystone actors is an increasingly important feature of our human-dominated world. Active leadership in sustainability initiatives by these corporations could result in a cascade through the entire seafood industry towards improved management of marine living resources and ecosystems,” says lead author Henrik Österblom, Deputy Science Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
“Increasing demand for seafood has contributed to a global fisheries crisis, with consequences for marine ecosystems around the world,” Österblom adds. Existing analyses of global fisheries operations have, however, so far largely focused on the role of countries, rather than industry corporations....
A fishing vessel off the coast of Scotland in 1963, shot by Phillip Capper, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license