In Fishery Improvements, Major Buyers Become Catalysts for Change
This was particularly true in the Guyana Atlantic Seabob Shrimp Fishery, a productive shrimp resource located in the coastal waters off the tiny nation of Guyana, along the northern coast of South America.
Seabob Shrimp is the commercial name of Xiphopenaeus kroyeri, a small shrimp that makes up a huge share of Guyana’s exports.
Once in danger of a possible collapse, the Guyana Atlantic Seabob Shrimp Fishery today is on a path toward sustainability certification, thanks to a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) established in 2011.
The seabob FIP confirmed two realities. First, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for every FIP – each needs its own unique approach. Second, industry players (especially buyers) will be the engine that catalyzes and leads fishery improvements around the world.
A buyer-led turnaround
The Guyana seabob shrimp fishery is a prime example of buyer engagement at its best.
Several years ago, few would have given this fishery much of a chance to obtain sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council, the NGO that uses science-based standards to assess whether fisheries are well-managed.
Trawl fishing of seabob shrimp in Guyana began in 1984 and has grown rapidly. The UN Food and Agriculture Association’s mid-2000s profile of Guyana’s seabob shrimp fishery paints a grim picture. It notes that “resource management and sustainable exploitation, together with rising fuel costs, are currently the major concerns for this fishery.” Further, it notes that there is “sufficient information to cause all stakeholders and scientists involved to conclude that…the seabob shrimp resource has reached its maximum sustainable level.”
Then, an unexpected twist came in 2011, when the European shrimp company Heiploeg Group, which runs most of the seabob shrimp fishing operations in this fishery, informed stakeholders that it would initiate the process of getting sustainability certification on its own, without outside help.
To say the least, it was a pleasant surprise.
As the MSC assessment was started in 2011, the fishery’s working group proactively agreed to conduct a data collection and stock assessment, create a plan to reduce bycatch, and worked with other stakeholders to develop a fishery management plan to help guide future decisions. The Guyana seabob shrimp fishery hopes to achieve MSC certification by the end of 2014.
A successful model
Fishery Improvement Projects are as diverse as the fisheries themselves, but they all function within a credible model that works under all circumstances.
What all FIPs have in common is that there is a core group of players within the supply chain – fishermen, processors, retailers, regulators and scientists – who are committed to fishery improvements. All FIPs require some form of data collection process, a fishery assessment to determine the state of the fishery, a work plan to achieve improvements, and a monitoring system to make sure it’s implemented correctly.
Well-funded FIPs tend to make steady progress and MSC certification can be achieved relatively quickly. One example of this is the Barents Sea cod and haddock fisheries, in which a FIP was launched in 2006, and MSC certification was achieved in 2010. Seafood buyers engaged closely with the governments of Norway and Russia, playing a critical role in initiatives to crack down on IUU fishing. The fishery is the healthiest it’s been in 60 years.
Bringing buyers to the table
Russian wild salmon is a good example where increased buyer engagement would enhance improvement projects.
Improvement efforts have been underway in individual Russian salmon fisheries since at least 2008, led by the catch sector and supported by NGOs like WWF and the Wild Salmon Center. Several Russian salmon fisheries have received MSC certification or entered assessment in the past few years.
However, despite numerous buyer delegation visits to the region, to date buyer engagement in improvement efforts has been low. This can create perceived lack of market interest in improving these fisheries, with the possible effect of dampening catcher willingness to engage in improvements and hindering catch sector and NGO leverage to encourage improvements.
Buyers can support improvements not only through participation in FIPs, but also by rewarding and encourage catch sector engagement through preferential or direct procurement from suppliers engaged in improvements. A meeting was convened around the Boston Seafood Show in March 2013 to encourage increased buyer engagement in Russia salmon fishery improvement efforts.
Learning through trial and error
There are thousands of fisheries worldwide that are in need of improvements, and NGOs such as the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and the World Wildlife Fund only have limited capacity to oversee and provide guidance.
Once a FIP process is started, the success rate of achieving sustainability certification is extremely high, though each may follow a slightly different script. As we’ve made huge strides in stabilizing many of our most at-risk fisheries, we have learned through trial and error how to create the necessary level of engagement on the part of the industry.
The success or failure of many fisheries will depend on the willingness of buyers to drive the demand for sustainable seafood and the opportunity to ensure the long term viability of their business.
Bill DiMento is the corporate director of sustainability for High Liner Foods, the leading value added seafood supplier in North America. Dick Jones is the head of the Major Buyers Education Division for the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, a business-focused NGO that is reshaping the world of corporate responsibility through the creation of powerful information tools and a methodology that allows companies to directly engage with suppliers of natural resources.
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