Chris Hanselman comes from two generations of fisher-folk in the United Kingdom. Initially he worked for the Hong Kong Government, leaving in 1997 as no 2 in the Financial Action Task Force. Graduating with an MBA from Kellogg in 2001 and with a strong belief in the necessity for sustainable fishing, he established Pacific Rich Resources.
Pacific Rich Resources is headquartered in Hong Kong with a focus to bring quality seafood to Asian Pacific Rim markets. PRR sources all its seafood worldwide from partners that believe in and practice sustainable fishing.
MSC/ASC are rare accreditations to have in Hong Kong. What are they, and why are they important?
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) are separate accreditations. MSC is for wild caught fish, and ASC for farmed fish. They are an accreditation which identifies the fish as coming from a sustainable source.
A farmed fish or prawn might seem to be coming from a sustainable source, but in fact, often it is not, due to the pollution created, antibiotics used, poor labor practices, or the fact that sometimes the fish are fed with other fish, meaning that another species is then being impacted as well.
When a fish is MSC accredited, one can actually trace that fish back to the fishing boat and fishing grounds where it was caught. Those fishing grounds are themselves scientifically assessed as being healthy.
This is an onerous process but it is the only way one can prove categorically that the fish came from a healthy source.
What challenges did you face in getting your products into the retailers you supply?
We are winning, but it has been a slow, long and hard process. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong populace generally seems unaware of, or do not seem to care about, the state of our ocean. There is thus no incentive to purchase ‘sustainably accredited products’. It has no weight in the market to drive growth, nor is there any regulation to do so. The HK consumer is usually only driven by the price point. Retailers have not wanted to change.
"Major branded supermarkets in the West made it part of their corporate philosophy and strategy to only sell ‘sustainably accredited seafood’. This has been slow to happen in Hong Kong, but I am glad to say it is now gaining traction"
Do retailers in Hong Kong understand the need for MSC/ASC certified seafood?
Major branded supermarkets in the West made it part of their corporate philosophy and strategy to sell ‘sustainably accredited seafood’. This has been slow to happen in Hong Kong, but I am glad to say it is now gaining traction.
Have the public noticed this increased supply of MSC/ASC seafood?
I do not know! There is certainly more accredited food available and I would hazard a guess to say yes. Certainly we are receiving more calls from buyers to supply a broader range.
Why do you feel the movement towards sustainable food is important?
It is a real problem and very simple. If we do not take care of our ocean, the fish stocks will be decimated and there will be insufficient fish to meet demand, even with aquaculture. But, the ramifications of over-fishing are much more than just a lack of food to eat. If the ocean is not manged properly, then indigenous fishermen lose their livelihood, we then escalate and exacerbate the problem we are now seeing of the economic refugees. It is a huge problem.
"If we do not take care of our oceans, the fish stocks will be decimated and there will be insufficient fish to meet demand, even with aquaculture"
Did you create PRR with the vision to be the primary supplier of seafood in Hong Kong?
Actually I did. I was really affected by what I was seeing, and decided that I had to try to make a difference, even if it was a small one.
Why would you suggest other businesses follow in your lead?
To be honest, there are no real benefits to do what we are doing until it becomes more of a competitive advantage for retailers and restaurants to be serving seafood which is demanded as sustainable, and in fact, actually available. In the future, as fish stocks decline, having access to products will be an advantage for those in the business. I would also hope that more businesses would follow us because it is the socially responsible thing to do.
What are the first steps suppliers and retailers need to take to stock these types of products?
They need to make a decision on principle, not economically, to drive change in the market. Be a change leader - not a follower. Most species and products on the market can be found in an accredited version somewhere.
"There is certainly no support or incentives by the government"
Do you think Hong Kong is moving towards this type of standard for its food products city wide?
Yes, but very, very slowly. There is certainly no support or incentives offered by the government.
What can us everyday people do to help the increase, the demand and awareness of sustainable seafood?
People should be really made aware of how serious the problem is. I am sure they don’t understand. They then should be more aware of what they are eating.
National Geographic actually states world fish stocks may run out by 2048. That is an even worse statistic. That means by the time my kids are my age there will be no more fish…what happens then?
Any unusual information about seafood we probably don't know about?
The extent of the decline. There are many dates put on when the ocean will pass the rate of no return to viability, or when they will not be able to meet world demand. I have read that 70% of the fish populations are fully used, overused, or are in crisis. This is a dreadful statistic. National Geographic actually states world fish stocks may run out by 2048. That is an even worse statistic. That means by the time my kids are my age there will be no more fish…what happens then?
What do you think the future of Hong Kong’s seafood supply looks like?
If you mean supply from Hong Kong waters, well, there isn’t any today as most of it has been overfished. The ban on trawling in HK waters two years ago has helped, and the fish are starting to come back, but we need to manage the future fishery well, with many more marine protected areas that allow zero fishing. Today our marine parks still allow fishing! That is like allowing hunting in a zoo. In terms of general supply, it will be always broad and and in high demand. Hong Kong people love their seafood.
How do you stay hopeful about what is largely a dire situation when it comes to the ocean?
It's hard, but one has to keep on trying. We only have one life and one planet. I've had good fun here and I want to make sure my kids have a planet on which to live and have a good life.
We need help with education; the message of how bad the oceans are and how soon they will have insufficient fish is never going to be easily accepted.
What’s next for your company?
We will continue on this path and source more and more sustainable seafood for the market. Hopefully with more product offerings we can gain more access to / traction in market segments. Also, we need help with education; the message of how bad the health of the ocean is, and how soon they will have insufficient fish is never going to be easily accepted. I think there is a general problem on how to pass the message effectively over to the public.