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The Red Lobster restaurant chain and the New England Aquarium may not seem like the most natural of partners, but Meghan Jeans, director of the Boston-based aquarium’s Conservation Programs, is busy making this connection work. In this case, Darden Restaurants—the parent company of well-known restaurants such as Olive Garden, The Capitol Grille, Yard House, and Red Lobster—is committed to advancing seafood sustainability. In addition to leading the aquarium’s conservation policy efforts, Jeans marshals a diverse team of scientific and technical staff to help Darden and other major seafood-buying companies identify practical steps towards that goal.
Unsustainable fishing and aquaculture practices pose significant threats to environmental and human health worldwide. Companies that rely on those resources are feeling mounting pressure to address these threats in a more holistic and coordinated fashion. Increasingly, corporate/NGO partnerships are becoming a key strategy for seafood-buying companies to mitigate risk and demonstrate good corporate citizenship. Meanwhile, conservation organizations like the New England Aquarium recognize that private-sector corporations can provide critical market and political leverage to influence positive changes on the water. Towards that end, the aquarium’s “Sustain- able Seafood Program” partners with companies—including Darden, Gorton’s Seafood, The Fresh Market, and Ahold USA (the parent company of the Giant and Stop & Shop supermarket chains)— to help them become better stewards of the marine resources upon which their businesses depend.
The aquarium’s team of wild fisheries and aquaculture specialists handle a wide-range of activities, including conducting environmental risk assessments of their partners’ supply chains; providing procurement recommendations; developing educational materials for staff, suppliers and customers; and facilitating corporate support of key conservation initiatives. In addition, there is increasing public (and sometimes shareholder) expectation that companies will utilize both their buying power as well as their political muscle to drive change. The New England Aquarium facilitates corporate engagement on federal legislative and regulatory issues to strengthen fisheries management, deter illegal fishing, and improve seafood traceability. They also help their partners engage in more discrete issues, particularly where there are direct threats to the sustainability of a company’s seafood supply. In this light, the U.S. seafood industry can be a global force for positive change—whether it’s opposing the proposed Pebble Mine project that threatens the commercial and ecological health of Alaska’s Bristol Bay or pushing for reforms in the harvest and labor practices in the Honduran spiny lobster fishery.
The aquarium’s fisheries program is also working with other advocacy and research groups on several complementary projects. NEA has partnered with the National Geographic Society and Conservation International, for example, to develop the world’s first comprehensive Ocean Health Index, “a sort of Dow Jones for the ocean,” Jeans notes. The index will describe how the policies of different countries are affecting marine health with a single number on a hundred-point scale.
“We recognize that improving ocean health and inspiring a sense of stewardship requires that we bring a diverse range of expertise to the table.”
The job involves “a little bit of everything,” says Jeans, who took the helm there in January 2012. Working at the intersection of law, policy, science, and business reflects the reality that sustainable food issues and their solutions will require a multi-disciplinary approach. “It definitely promotes ADD,” says Jeans, “but we recognize that improving ocean health and inspiring a sense of stewardship requires that we bring a diverse range of expertise to the table.”