SENA18 Diary: Boston gets onboard with one-by-one tuna

Jason Holland, IPNLF’s Media & Communications Advisor shares some of the key talking points from the IPNLF-led panel session at Seafood Expo North America

With Southeast Asia providing a hub for both tuna fisheries and processing, considerable onus has been placed on stakeholders and supply chain actors to ensure the region’s tuna products meet the increasing traceability requirements in all the major markets. Because North America is historically one of the world’s biggest tuna consumers, IPNLF seized the opportunity to organise a panel of expert speakers at the annual Seafood Expo North America (SENA) in Boston, Massachusetts, to inform attendees about some of the latest tuna-related initiatives in the area's leading one-by-one fisheries, including the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The session, ‘Ready for Market – Progress in Southeast Asia Tuna Fisheries’, was chaired by my colleague Adam Baske, IPNLF’s Director Policy & Outreach, and setting the scene, he advised attendees that in recent years, tuna fisheries and stakeholders in Southeast Asia have embarked on a journey to enhance their sustainability, traceability and quality credentials, as well as reducing risks related to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).

Adam also stressed the importance that these and other measures continue to have on ensuring access to markets such as North America and Europe. Tuna is such an important species in this region and a crucial part of its rich fishing tradition, he said.

“Tuna plays a vital role in the lives of so many people. It provides essential sources of food and livelihoods for coastal communities and is also an essential contributor at a trade level. It is linked to food security, employment, processing and a number of associated industries to deliver substantial benefits to millions of people.”

Meanwhile, consumer demand for fresh and frozen tuna in the United States is solid, and frozen loin imports are increasing, with the tuna sectors of Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam further strengthening their connections to the market over the past year, he said.

Building data

Helen Packer, Science and Sustainability Coordinator at Anova Food USA, a leading supplier of fresh/frozen tuna from the region, shared lessons learned from working with a Southeast Asian tuna fisheries on the ground, particularly Vietnam and Indonesia, and approaches undertaken to drive environmental and social improvements through its ‘Fishing & Living’ programme.

Anova has been sourcing tuna from Indonesia for 14 years, mainly from handline fisheries, and has been actively involved in the yellowfin handline fisheries improvement project (FIP) since 2011, with the first certification coming in 2014. It has also been an active member of a FIP in Vietnam since 2014.

To increase the availability of fisheries in Southeast Asia, the company has supported programmes and invested resources into building that knowledge, said Helen. Through partnerships it has also acted as an intermediary between local fishers and government and helped build capacity in the region as part of multi-stakeholder groups with the data that has been collected.

Meanwhile, Fair Trade USA Certification for a tuna fishery in eastern Indonesia, incorporating four different provinces, began in 2014 and now involves 27 fishermen’s associations working on behalf of more than 600 fishermen. In 2015/16, some $400,000 worth of Fair Trade USA premium tuna was collected.

“This is a considerable amount of money that these fishermen can reinvest through their association into the community,” she said.

In 2017, the volume of Fair Trade tuna from this fishery reached 3,000 tonnes and is continuing to increase. “We are seeing a domino effect, whereby communities have seen the success of others and what it is enabling them to do; and this is encouraging them to become more involved and to join the programme.”

Anova is also now sourcing around 500 tonnes of handline caught yellowfin per year from Vietnam. In terms of its activities in the country, it’s involved in local workshops focused on various aspects of best-practice handling, data collection, regulation, sustainability awareness and bycatch mitigation. Additionally, it’s supporting onboard observers and providing circle hooks to fishermen.

Equitable prices

The fisheries sector is a “critical contributor” to the ecology-based economy of the Philippines, Susana Roxas, Asia Pacific Lead – Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability at WWF, told the session. The country is the world’s third-largest tuna producer, with yellowfin accounting for 35 percent of the country’s total fishery exports. Crucially, small-scale handline fishers contribute 46% of its total tuna landings and 76% of the yellowfin catch.

But Susana also highlighted a number of threats that the handline fishers face, including the catch of juvenile yellowfin targeted by purse-seine and ring net vessels, overfishing and decreasing catch per unit effort.

Another historical issue in the Philippines is that to facilitate their cash flow, fishers have commonly been indebted to traders. This has led to them only receiving the equivalent of $3 per kg for their catch, when the grade of tuna that they are bringing in could be earning double that sum. The fishers sell at the lower price to ensure that all of their tuna is sold, she said.

Since 2011, WWF has been advocating for improved governance of Philippine fisheries to safeguard tuna stocks and secure long-term economic benefits of 6,000 fishers in more than 140 tuna fishing villages around the Lagonoy Gulf and Mindoro Strait. Susana explained that the primary goal of its Public Private Partnership Programme Toward Sustainable Tuna (PPTST) is to support the livelihoods of these artisanal fishers by establishing long-term niche market access for their high-value tuna as well as progressing responsible fisheries management in the region, predominantly through the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, and empowering the fishermen to better manage the fishery themselves.

Another upshot of the programme is that cash flows have improved and many fishers no longer have to rely on the traders. More scrupulous and affordable financing has also been made much more available to the sector, said Susana.

The fishery is now ready for full MSC assessment and the hope is to have this done in 2018 to achieve certification by 2019. An electronic catch data scheme will also be rolled out, she added. “The FIP is now ready for scaling up to other sites.”

FIP headway

Jeremy Crawford, IPNLF’s Director for Southeast Asia, told attendees that Indonesia – as the largest tuna fishing nation in the world and with some 95% of its tuna sector’s workforce coming from the artisanal and coastal fleets – is a priority region for IPNLF. He shared the progress that’s being made with the country’s one-by-one tuna FIP that’s been ongoing since 2015.

“Alongside our Member support, IPNLF has a vested interest to support these Indonesian one-by-one fisheries,” he said.

The pole-and-line and handline sectors have progressed well in the last few years, but a recent FIP review emphasised the need to progress the development of harvest strategies, and to expand knowledge regarding the potential impacts of baitfish fisheries for the one-by-one sector accompanied by appropriate management systems. Partnered with the Government and AP2HI, IPNLF is progressing work in both areas.

Together with AP2HI and MMAF, IPNLF is helping to drive the sustainability agenda in the country in terms of both policy and in the supply chain, he said. Through the FIP, the two organisations have also identified 14 one-by-one fisheries across seven locations to be the focus of the on-the-ground improvement activities, with Jeremy explaining that they were identified based on criteria which included fishery geography, gear type, target tuna species, available fishery data, preparedness for MSC assessment, company engagement in achieving MSC certification, and compliance with the AP2HI Code of Conduct. From this list of 14, six will enter full MSC assessment by the end of 2019.

As awareness in the programme grows, more fisheries may be added to the list, he said.

IPNLF and AP2HI have also developed a FIP Action Plan for each unit of assessment (UoA) to address the issues that each fishery needs to tackle in order to prepare the fisheries for MSC assessment, with support and collaboration from other FIP stakeholders, he explained.

Last year, IPNLF secured three grants with the largest coming from the Walton Family Foundation to accelerate improvements in the pole-and-line and handline fisheries to enable them to reach full MSC assessment by the end of 2019, while also ensuring international seafood markets have access to the certified products once they become available. This ambition will be further supported by IPNLF’s strategic partnership with USAID Oceans.

Because of the scale and importance of the fisheries, Jeremy also highlighted that there are currently 12 NGOs operating in the Indonesian tuna space, and while it’s important to ensure that any overlapping of effort is minimised, which in itself requires close collaboration and dialogue, it helps to have so many entities aligned and working to drive change at a policymaking level.

Advancing traceability

Also within the SENA session, details were also shared of the collaboration between IPNLF and USAID Oceans, which is aimed at enhancing fisheries management, and improving human welfare through enhanced catch documentation and traceability in Indonesia, incorporating the harnessing of cutting edge technology and leveraging global expertise.

Farid Maruf, Regional Catch Documentation and Traceability Specialist with the USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership, first explained that USAID Oceans is a five-year programme (May 2015 to May 2020) that is engaging ASEAN and Coral Triangle (CTI-CFF) member countries. It’s based on four primary objectives:

  1. Develop a financially sustainable regional catch documentation and traceability system (CDTS) to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud in areas where sustainable fisheries management planning is being conducted
  2. Expand the use of CDTS to priority marine biodiversity conservation areas within the ASEAN/CTI-CFF region
  3. Strengthen human and institutional capacity of regional organisations to conserve marine biodiversity through CDT and sustainable fisheries
  4. Enhance public-private partnerships (PPPs)

Together with IPNLF, and working closely with AP2HI and the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), USAID Oceans has launched a project to implement a CDTS in Indonesia to support sustainable fisheries management and supply chain integrity.

The system will support the capture and validation of key data elements on tuna products, including legality and movement from the point of harvest all the way to the end consumer, while the broader programme is working to build partnerships with technology and seafood companies as well as investors to identify sustainable business and investment models for expansion.