4 Nov 2016
AN OPEN LETTER FROM OUR CEO
UPDATE - 3 Sept 2021: In December 2019, WWF-Australia commissioned an independent report to examine the circumstances surrounding the ecological impacts of expanded aquaculture operations in Macquarie Harbour. The report’s findings reinforce WWF-Australia’sand recommendations to the Tasmanian Upper House Enquiry on Fin Fish Farming in 2019.
UPDATE – 15 Feb 2019: WWF’s commitment to marine conservation and a sustainable salmon industry in Tasmania is unwavering. The remaining significant environmental challenges are of a clear industry-wide nature. After six years of successful partnership between WWF and Tassal in pursuit of sustainable salmon farming, and with significant environmental achievements, WWF is now embarking on an industry-wide approach to tackling the most difficult sustainability and transparency issues faced by industry and the community.
Dear WWF Supporter,
Every day at WWF, we are grateful for the support of Australians who are helping us build a future in which people and nature thrive.
On 31 October, ABC current affairs program 4 Corners was critical of the Tasmanian salmon farming industry and of WWF-Australia. We have since received messages from some supporters raising concerns, mirroring those criticisms. A number of you have also called to support our work.
WWF-Australia is proud of its conservation achievements. Like you, we believe in the power of WWF to help wildlife and the environment. So what has most upset us is that as a result of 4 Corners only telling one side of the story, some of our amazing supporters are unhappy with us.
We are particularly disappointed that despite WWFs best efforts - including a long 75 minute interview and transparent provision of information - 4 Corners failed to inform their viewers about the successful environmental outcomes that WWF has achieved in Tasmania and around the world through this work. Our work on this issue has meant the removal of some pollutants like copper from the marine environment, a reduction in the use of antibiotics, and less reliance on wild salmon populations. It is complex work that requires extensive research, deep analysis, and a determined commitment to conservation.
It’s true that some inaccuracies have cropped up when talking about the issue. In my interview with 4 Corners I was asked if we had discussed the use of our logo with Huon, the other big salmon farming company. I told 4 Corners that to the best of my knowledge, we had not. Following the airing of the program, I was advised that a WWF staff member had, during discussions with Huon, in fact talked with them about the potential use of our logo. I immediately went to correct the public record on Wednesday, of this fact.
It is vital to our supporters and the public that we are open and transparent about how we work, with whom and why. As well as our Annual Report, since 2014 we have published a corporate partnership detailing our work with businesses. Our website is full of information about all our activities, including those with . WWF always maintains the highest integrity with the use of its logo and we strongly reject the 4 Corners unfair accusation.
WWF-Australia’s work has a huge positive impact on wildlife, habitats and the environment. But that alone is not enough of an explanation for the issues raised in the report on 31 October. The report was very specific about Tasmania, the salmon farming industry, and one of the companies that we work with to make change happen.
There are six main questions being asked by our community, and I’ve gone into each one of those below. These answers explain our approach to ensuring a sustainable future for people and nature.
For my WWF colleagues and me it’s been a challenging week. But after nearly twenty years of working with WWF, I’m optimistic that with your support and trust, together we will make a difference for conservation.
My sincere thanks to you all.
Dermot O'Gorman, CEO, WWF-Australia
The six main questions asked by you this week:
Why does WWF work with business and accept money from them?
The world faces a big challenge: we will need to feed over 9.7 billion people by 2050. Finding sustainable ways of doing so, without further degrading natural habitats, is vital. Our most recent Living Planet Report shows that we are consuming more than 1.5 planets worth of the earth's sustainable resources each year - this fact demands we do things differently to save the planet - for people and nature.
There are certain priority foods and commodities that have a particularly big role to play in this story because of their existing and forecast impact on habitats and the environment.
It is not a simple challenge and it does not have one simple solution – it involves producers (farmers and fishers), food manufacturers and retailers, government, and you, me and everyone – we all eat and our choices are important.
So businesses – why work with them? Well, because businesses produce the goods and services that 7 billion people on this planet consume. Either they are the problem, or they must become part of the solution. Hence, businesses have a big role to play in meeting this complex global challenge. The biggest businesses account for the largest share of resources, and they can have the biggest impact on the environment, whether negative or positive. Working successfully with one big business can have more impact than working with many smaller ones. WWF's worked for more than two decades to transform global markets on a journey to sustainable consumption.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a 20 year success story, is one example that WWF has been involved with for two decades. From a standing start, today over 195 million hectares of forest in more than 80 countries are now managed responsibly and certified by the FSC. That means more trees are saved, the air is cleaner, and planet’s health is more secure. We know our approach works.
WWF is committed to being transparent about our partnerships with business. Our business partnership report can be found on our detailing all our partners and the work we do with them and how much they donate to conservation. Our annual shows that funds from business partners amount to around 10% of the total income for WWF-Australia, with the majority (around 75%) of our work being funded by donations from individual supporters - that maintains our independence and ensure the highest scientific standards.
Why does WWF work on food?
Over 20 years ago we identified food production as one of the biggest threats to the wildlife and habitat that we all know and want to protect. That’s why we are absolutely committed to finding ways of producing food more sustainably - so we can reduce the pressure on the places we love. If we do not, we will lose decades of conservation efforts as we struggle to feed over 9 billion people by 2050 - with unsustainable farming practices. Along with climate change it is the biggest environmental challenge facing our generation.
Why work on salmon aquaculture that is operating in Tasmanian waters?
More than 31% of the world's wild fisheries are estimated to be overfished. Worse still, global consumption is projected to increase by 31 million tonnes over the next decade, which is about 21% more than current consumption. Put simply, wild fish populations are not going to be able to meet future demand and are under an enormous threat.
To cope with demand, farmed fish, or aquaculture, will have to make a much greater contribution to protein production. Today, over 50% of all seafood consumption is from aquaculture and is growing fast. But this can’t be just any aquaculture. Properly practiced responsible aquaculture has a important role to play in feeding Australia and the world.
Is salmon farming in Tasmania perfect? No - any farming activity has an impact on the environment, but we believe that all food production must be responsible if we are to conserve wildlife and the environment. Is there still a lot more work to be done? Absolutely, and WWF is committed to work with all stakeholders to continue to lift the bar.
Is the industry better than it would have been without WWF involvement? Yes. Because the important thing is that Australian consumers, that buy more than 95% of all Tasmania salmon, now have an independent standard (the ASC) of responsible aquaculture practice. Our vision is to see 100% of all Tasmanian salmon farmed to the highest global standard - a world first for Tasmania.
What is ASC, is it a reliable organisation? And what is the link with WWF?
The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) itself is an independent, multi-stakeholder, not-for-profit body that develops and maintains the standard for responsible production in aquaculture. The ASC is the body that awards a certification, if standards are met, to a business. It ensures that the assessment and certification process of businesses is transparent to the public, inclusive and objective.
WWF International was involved in the founding of the organisation, and has a seat on its board. We do not contribute or receive funds from the ASC. And WWF, in any country including Australia, does not certify any organisation with ASC or any other similar standard.
In simpler terms, what the ASC does is sets standard for the responsible practice of aquaculture. It is a member of the ISEAL Alliance, which includes many respected environmental and social standards, such as Fairtrade and the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). When you see these logos or labels on a product, it means something to you about the way that product has been produced.
These standards, based on the latest scientific knowledge, are designed to give companies a set of common processes and practices they can work to that are the same across an industry. Importantly, they provide the public with the information needed to make responsible shopping choices (for example, just like the Fairtrade labels you see on some products in the shops).
Why work with Tassal and what do they pay for?
When WWF first started talking with Tassal in 2011-2012, they were the only company willing to make a commitment to the WWF Global Seafood Charter. As the largest operator they offered the opportunity to transition around 50% of the Tasmanian farmed salmon into the newly created ASC standard and presented the greatest chance to have a positive conservation impact.
The WWF global Seafood Charter contains four main commitments:
- Commit to sustainable seafood
- Invest in Fishery Improvement Projects (FIP) and Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIP) – which aim to achieve MSC or ASC certification
- Invest in Fishery Conservation Projects (FCP) – which aim to support sustainable production
- Raise awareness – educating their employees, consumers and partners about the benefits of the MSC and ASC certification schemes.
As with all our strategic business partners, the funding from Tassal contributes towards two things:
- The sustainable aquaculture work we carry out with Tassal – providing expertise and advice on responsible practices
- Conservation projects, such as the Girringun TUMRA Seagrass Monitoring project in Queensland
Therefore the investment of funds from Tassal into conservation has made a significant difference to fisheries conservation in Australia and around the world.
Why does the WWF logo appear on a Tassal product?
The 4 Corners television report implied that WWF had sold the use of the logo to Tassal. This is both untrue and misrepresented our explanation in the interview.
Any permission to use the WWF logo is earned in recognition of a commitment to the highest global standards and achievement in becoming more environmentally responsible. The process of obtaining ASC certification is a long and difficult one. In this case, it took more than four years work between Tassal, the ASC, and the industry to change the way the company operates. At the end of that time, Tassal became the first company in the world to be fully ASC-certified.
The ASC label is one that is not well known in Australia. That’s why, after more than four years work, we agreed to have our logo included for a promotional campaign to help shoppers know that a recognisable and trusted charity; WWF, supports the ASC standards for responsible farming, based on the science of the standards and the independence of ASC as an organisation.