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In Fishery Improvements, Major Buyers Become Catalysts for Change

In the global sustainable seafood movement, sometimes it’s the efforts that receive little public attention that send the loudest message.

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.

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