On the road: Catch up with Emily Howgate, IPNLF Programme Director

After a number of seafood events this Spring, Emily reflects on the importance of outreach and public speaking for IPNLF.
Emily Howgate, International Coordinating Director. © IPNLF

In February I was out ‘on the road’, spreading the good word of one-by-one tuna fisheries at events including the Seafood Summit in New Orleans and Sustainable Fisheries Partnership’s EU Forum in Madrid. Not many people enjoy public speaking, certainly I still feel nervous even after all these years of standing on podiums and talking sustainability, but – perhaps slightly masochistically! – I actually really relish getting the chance to come under the spotlight and talk about the fisheries IPNLF works with. IPNLF is still somewhat in the minority when it comes to fishery NGOs giving social value true priority in their work, so I was delighted that Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) gave social issues a strong sounding at their event and invited me to speak about social accountability in pole-and-line fisheries at SFP’s forum. 

IPNLF’s vision is a future where coastal fisheries, and the communities and seas that they are part of, thrive. You might say that social sustainability is ‘baked in’ to what IPNLF does and who we are. For myself, I don’t think we can separate the healthfulness of people and planet – we are bound together - and labor-rich one-by-one tuna fisheries provide real livelihood opportunities, especially in developing parts of the world. If you’ve not seen such fisheries in action check it out these videos and witness the dexterity and skill of what it is to be a pole-and-line fisher (and I intentionally say ‘be’ a pole-and-line fisher rather than ‘do’ pole-and-line fishing as for most fishers this is the truth…fishing is not a simply a job, it is vividly part of who these people are):

Pole-and-Line fishing in Action (MSC certified Maldives fishery)

The environmental benefits of pole-and-line or hand-line fleets are widely recognised, and lauded by many environmental NGOs – including Greenpeace, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Marine Conservation Society - as a top tuna-choice. The social benefits are becoming clearer and IPNLF are determined to highlight these. Coastal communities have much to gain from increased control of their natural resources, more robust food security and the career and job opportunities pole-and-line fishing can create. February saw the launch of the first FairTrade tuna - hand-line yellowfin from the fisheries of Indonesia – and this is a fabulous achievement for social progress in fisheries, and hopefully the sign of things to come in recognition for pole-and-line/hand-line fleets. 

Now many of you reading this will know well about what I’ve stated above on the benefits of pole-and-line; maybe I’m preaching to the converted. Yet I emphasise this as it was put to me by someone that promoting pole-and-line fisheries is ‘gearist’. I, nor anyone I work with, promotes these fisheries because we are ‘gearist’ – we don’t have some kind of fetishist affiliation to sticks and lines…that belongs to the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey not a sustainability charity. ‘Pole-and-line’ is a proxy for impact. We promote, support and help develop these fisheries because of their inherent traits: low environmental impact and positive social benefits. That’s what counts in our world.

Of course, no fishery is perfect – while we sing the praises of pole-and-line loud and proud there’s always room for continuous improvement. IPNLF are working with partners to understand and enhance social value in these fisheries. This was a recommendation of our STAC meeting last November and later this year we’re planning new research around wellbeing in fishing communities in both the Maldives and Indonesia. 

Already underway is work developing capabilities in the fisheries. The Maldives’ Fishermen’s Community Training Centre (FCTC) was established in Laamu Atoll Maldives, supported by Swiss retailer MiGROS. The training programmes cover a wide range of themes from ecology to logbook management, navigation, bait fish handling, safe electrical wiring, and improving safety at sea. The core curriculum is now accredited under the Maldives National Qualification Framework and contributing to upskilling in the industry.

Similarly IPNLF’s ‘Voyages of Discovery’ are allowing cross generational and cross-geographical learning. Such knowledge transfer allows sharing of good-practice and these practical, hands-on experiences create a dynamic environment so innovative ideas can come forth. Creating connections between different fisheries is a real need IPNLF can help bridge.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be on the road again, representing IPNLF at trade shows and conferences; I am look forward to engaging with more partners who are committing to working with and investing in the social value of pole-and-line fisheries. Spreading the word of the work we do with these sustainable one-by-one tuna fisheries, and the coastal communities that depend upon them is an essential to ensure that we can encourage others to support them to enable them to thrive.