The SeaBOS initiative is a unique cross-sector collaboration involving ten of the world’s largest seafood companies and dozens of scientists across disciplines and universities. The scientific input has been coordinated by the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University with key scientific partners from the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, the University of Lancaster, and the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. The scientific work is independently funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Moore Foundation, and the Packard Foundation.
The scientific origins of SeaBOS can be found in research dating back to the 1960s. This is when professor Robert T. Paine developed the thinking around “keystone species”, demonstrating how some species exert much stronger influence in an ecosystem than others. After determining that the seafood industry is characterized by a handful of corporate giants as well as hundreds of much smaller companies, the researchers were inspired by Paine’s theory to explore whether these giants are an analogue for keystone species.
Dubbing these companies ‘keystone actors’, they noted both diversity as well as certain shared features, which make them crucial in any quest for change within the seafood industry:
Since then, the researchers have continued to study the “ecology” of these companies and engage increasingly closely with them – through SeaBOS – in order to feed the best available science into precompetitive collaboration to address unsustainable practices such as overfishing and harmful impacts on people, habitats, and non-target species in seafood production.
The strength of this collaboration is the acknowledgement from all parties involved that the challenges facing the ocean today cannot be solved by companies within a particular sector or region, let alone by an individual company. Transformative change requires concerted collaboration on the foundations of science.
A key factor for turning this initiative from scientific theory to evolving reality is that it is based on transdisciplinary research. It integrates diverse academic disciplines and also engages directly with societal actors for the production and use of knowledge outside of academia. Insights from different groups create shared learning and understanding. SeaBOS provides the participants with the opportunity to step out of more formal settings and connect in new ways to co-produce knowledge and learn together how to become stewards of the ocean.
The SeaBOS initiative not only provides a basis for a global transformation towards sustainable seafood production, and improving ocean health, but also a unique scientific opportunity to directly shape this transformation, learn from the interactions and monitor and critically reflect on what changes are happening.
The keystone dialogues are also designed to test a scientific hypothesis: Can sustainable leadership by keystone actors result in cascading effects throughout the entire seafood industry and enable a critical transition towards improved management of marine living resources and ecosystems?
In order to better understand the dialogue process, as well as its potential and risks, researchers are documenting the process with the ambition that this will stimulate scientific learning and enable replication as appropriate. The work applies some of the latest thinking on adaptive and ecosystem-based governance and has led to collaborations between many scientific fields, including corporate accounting.
SeaBOS illustrates that there is substantial potential for increased science-business collaboration as a lever for transformations toward sustainable futures, but that this potential is accompanied by clear risks as well. Trust, knowledge sharing and learning have been fundamental components of the initiative and are crucial for successful collaboration.
Carl Folke (and Board member of SeaBOS Fundraising Foundation)
Henrik Österblom (and Chair of SeaBOS
Sturle Hauge Simonsen
Guillermo Ortuño Crespo
Karolin A. Johansson
Peter Söögard Jörgensen
The Honorary Jane Lubchenco (distinguished professor and Board member of SeaBOS Fundraising Foundation)