Congratulations on having recently joined the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF). Your background mentions involvement in a lot of regional fishery projects in coordination with private donors, NGOs, international and regional organisations, as well as community groups. What do you specifically hope to achieve on behalf of the IPNLF?
Roy: Thank you, it’s a broad and interesting role through which I hope to highlight that there are better and more sustainable ways to operate and manage fisheries and their resultant trade. The damage still caused by some fishing gears and methods to critical ecosystems, and as a consequence their reliant communities, is simply unacceptable in modern times. I also hope to promote greater humanity in fisheries through improving equity in fisheries management decision making processes, improving labour practices, promoting recognition of community support and tackling issues of manipulation and slavery head on. We need to shift the public narrative towards more holistically responsible seafood sourcing. The current focus on biological sustainability of fisheries is of course important, but glosses over many shocking social issues persisting mostly among large industrial fisheries.
Related to the previous question but in a somewhat converse manner, how do you counter the argument that MSC certification of sustainability largely benefits the big players in the industry rather than the smallscale sector to which more than 90% of fishers throughout the world belong? Would it be better in social terms for smallscale fishers to opt for a different certification process such as Fair Trade USA?
Roy: This is not an argument that I typically counter, because in most cases MSC certification isn’t a viable option for small scale fisheries. Many just don’t achieve the economies of scale required to justify the cost of becoming certified. If buyers only rely on MSC certification to tick their sustainability boxes, it could lead to small-scale fisheries being marginalised in global markets, with serious impacts on the viability of intrinsically sustainable fisheries as well as the livelihoods of fishers and the communities connected to them. While MSC might recognise this disconnect and increasingly works with organisations like IPNLF to help small scale fisheries achieve certification and reap benefits, there remains much to be done in this space.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a very good framework for governments and businesses to understand the wider impacts of their policies or procurement decisions, and following such an approach can ensure that the sustainability attributes of one-by-one tuna fisheries and their contributions to coastal communities are adequately recognised. Other steps that should be taken include economic feasibility analyses informing certification initiatives, and differentiation in the market place for seafood products that originate from small-scale fisheries. Fair Trade assessments can also be too costly for many small scale fisheries, but we must also recognise that MSC and Fair Trade weren’t initially designed for these types of fisheries.
From my experience, at-sea labour issues are more common among industrial tuna fleets which are more frequently dependent on international migrant workers to improve the financial bottom line for investors. Spending long periods out at sea, with infrequent changes of crewmembers, also provides more opportunity for manipulation among these fleets. In contrast, one-by-one fisheries usually have relatively short fishing trips and local community involvement in fishing and value chain operations. Many fishery stakeholders are asking questions about the applicability of certification schemes for small-scale fisheries and I believe alternatives might appear in coming years, building from critical lessons learnt among the current options.
Together with other global stakeholders, the IPNLF is of course working to improve traceability and transparency throughout the tuna supply chain, through the use of technology. What are some of the initiatives that are being carried out in countries which have a one-by-one sector?
Roy: We’re engaged in many of these projects to ensure our member fleets can meet the increasing demands of consumers globally. We support fit-for-purpose improvements in each geography we work in, while the methods and technologies used vary greatly according to the scope of the fishery, the improvements we seek to make, and the current systems already employed by our members. Data is power in many instances, and we are also increasingly able to leverage improvements to have traceability systems carry the sustainability and community support messages from our fishers to their end consumers. I’m actively encouraging our members to lead by example in further improving the transparency of their at-sea operations, to highlight the typically better performance of one-by-one fisheries in this space. We’re working with many governments to promote enabling policies while using onboard observers and technologies such as time-lapse cameras, electronic logbooks, and even tracking devices on very small vessels to transparently evidence the benefits of one-by-one tuna fishing.
The IPNLF made a call ahead of the December 2019 meeting of the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to strengthen the management framework for sustainable and equitable tuna fisheries in the region. From all accounts, the meeting did not address some major points listed in the IPNLF’s Position Statement. What were the IPNLF’s biggest unresolved concerns in the Position Statement? How does the IPNLF intend to raise awareness on these concerns before the next WCPFC meeting?
Roy: It was disappointing to see that more industrial concerns were prioritised at that meeting. Priority issues for me included improved recognition of the socio-economic importance of tuna fisheries for local communities in regional management decision making processes, as well as greater accountability of purse seine fleets when FADs are lost at sea and cause ghost fishing or damage coastal ecosystems. Countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines have large populations of small-scale fishing communities that critically rely on these tuna fisheries for subsistence, and their livelihood needs should never become collateral damage as multinational fleets affect the shared tuna stocks and ecosystems. We do work closely with various governments in the region and will aim to leverage successes from our many projects to ensure that raised concerns can’t again be ignored during future meetings.
At the Our Oceans 2018 Conference, a side event on “Building Equity into Sustainable Seafood Sourcing” was hosted by IPNLF, Asosiasi Perikanan Pole & Line dan Handline (AP2HI), Yayasan Masyarakat dan Perikanan Indonesia (MDPI), and Blue Ventures. The clear message was that with the right support, small scale fisheries can grow. Soon after that, it was reported that the first Indonesian skipjack pole-and-line tuna fishery was awarded MSC certification, a process in which the IPNLF had worked together with the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF). Could you give us an update on the fishery, including future plans (if any)? What are some lessons that other countries can derive from this collaborative process to jumpstart their own small scale tuna sectors?
Roy: Being new to IPNLF, I was very pleasantly surprised to see how well we’re already doing at enabling small scale fisheries to meet international standards and improve their competitiveness among international seafood markets. We’ve recently initiated MSC certification processes for eight more Indonesian fisheries, with plans to incorporate at least four more in coming years. Suitably enabling small scale fisheries, and one-by-one fisheries in general, provides opportunities to maximise the value of their catch through achieving premium harvest quality, effective management and traceability while also alleviating many of the economic or market barriers they typically face. Combining these gains with the more widespread and equitable support these fleets provide to coastal communities needs to be better communicated to the increasingly concerned general public. Merging the improved quality of individually harvested fish, with the intrinsically more sustainable one-by-one fishing methods, these fishers have the ability to outperform even the largest industrial fleets in quality and equity. In this respect, governments should proactively emphasise and support initiatives which can help their fishers make the most socio-economically beneficial use of shared tuna resources by engaging in one-by-one fishing methods. IPNLF has a unique ability to provide the local and international support required in this space.
Referring to the IPNLF’s Social Sustainability Manifesto for One-by-One Tuna Fisheries, how does it specifically aim to employ and empower women?
Roy: You’ll notice on our website that IPNLF has a strong history of recognising the critical roles women play within fishing industries. Recognising this and providing credit where it tends to be sorely lacking is one thing, but I’m looking forward to better tracking our improvements in this space while actively promoting further opportunities for women throughout seafood supply chains.
Especially in small scale fisheries, women often do already hold prominent positions in managing trade, but there remains much room for improvement and I hope to see more female fishery representatives in high level meetings, making decisions on how fisheries should be managed.
We will continue empowering more women to have consistent and equitable employment opportunities throughout our members supply chains. To do this we will capitalize upon the opportunities many women have on shore while men tend to be at sea and thus unable to engage in employment that supports improvements in the overall seafood trade system. The baseline data being collected will help us better track and evidence our ongoing successes in this space.
And finally, as the only non-profit that is solely committed to promoting responsible one-by-one tuna fisheries and supply chains, and as an UNCTAD observer, what is on the IPNLF’s wish list for the Asia Pacific in 2020?
Roy: Of course to see the rights and needs of small scale oneby-one fisheries being more formally recognised and accommodated through the regional fishery and trade management processes that currently tend to focus on larger industrial fleets operations. I expect we will implement more successful operational and trade improvement projects with an increasing number of functional and strategic partners in the region over coming years. I overall aim to further increase the global seafood market competitiveness of these fleets while ensuring that their functional benefits are more effectively communicated to end consumers, utilising tailor made initiatives as required by regional and local contexts.