Why sustainability demands inclusivity

Martin Purves, IPNLF's Managing Director, explains to Infofish Magazine how the seafood industry can strengthen its contribution towards achieving the UN SDGs

With the demand for responsibly sourced one-by-one caught tuna continuing to grow at unprecedented levels, a global effort is required to bridge the gap between what consumer markets want and what can actually be supplied. Experience has taught us that a hands-on approach at every level is required to achieve this aim. It’s for this reason that the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) works throughout the supply chain with governments and with international management organisations to have both the greatest impact and value. Crucially though, it is our action on the ground, at the grassroots fisher and local fishing community level, that can create the biggest impact; and so, the IPNLF team spends as much time as it possibly can in the field engaging, interacting and providing support.

One of my recent trips to some of Indonesia’s one-by-one tuna fisheries reaffirmed the inherently strong ties that exist between coastal fishing operations and processing plants. This close proximity – geographically and economically – means that many people in local communities are directly connected to the fisheries – indeed their daily nutrition and livelihoods depend on them. A previous excursion also highlighted the growing level of sophistication now deployed in faraway places to ensure that high quality, fairly traded tuna can reach global markets. In one area, for example, I found the co-location of two very distinctly different operations, both connected to the same company. The Katsuobushi plant where they produced the dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack product looked very rudimentary when compared to the highly sophisticated, almost surgical Saku plant producing sashimi-grade super-frozen yellowfin tuna blocks.

Visits such as these never fail to provide IPNLF with invaluable insights into the changing tuna landscape. It’s also essential that we keep a firm fix on the constantly evolving consumer markets. In this regard, it is extremely encouraging to see an increasing reconnection by consumers with the oceans – as well as enjoying the fish and seafood products that they provide, consumers also want to make sure that the stocks from which these products are sourced and the people at the very start of the supply chain are fully respected.

An inclusive, collaborative approach

It has been well-documented that the next consumer powerhouse, the so-called ‘Generation Z’, people aged 22 years and younger, will make up 40% of the world’s consumers by 2020. As we know, this extremely social media-savvy generation wants consumer goods that provide good value for a fair price. They also want to see socially responsible behaviour that delivers for the greater good. This further elevates the need for supply chains to do the right thing and provide sufficient supportive evidence of their actions.

Thankfully, a growing section of the corporate entities sourcing and providing consumers with seafood are equally onboard with delivering these assurances. As such, many of these companies are adhering to the principles contained in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2015, world leaders committed to the 17 SDGs, which provide a holistic framework, with the vision of eradicating poverty and deprivation, growing economies, protecting the environment, advancing peace and promoting good governance.

It is encouraging to see an increasing awareness and focus on ocean action since the SDGs’ arrival. For its part, IPNLF has mapped out the work that it does, with the support of our Member network, that’s aligned with the goals. We believe this is a considerable opportunity for responsible businesses to engage with the world’s traditional, small-scale one-by-one tuna fisheries; to ensure they are heard and nurtured and therefore remain part of the broader sustainability landscape.

We are in no doubt that there are opportunities for these fisheries to grow and expand, but to do so they will need support from responsible businesses. It would, after all, be unthinkable that in this age of heightened business ethics that international corporations would commit all of their sourcing to offshore large, industrial fisheries instead of providing the support to help coastal fisheries compete on a fair footing. There is unquestionably a place for both.

Indonesian one-by-one tuna fisheries: a potential role model

For many coastal communities, one-by-one tuna fishing methods provide an opportunity to develop a profitable and socially responsible domestic fishery sector, while supporting employment, food security, traditional cultures and livelihoods; and a model to sustain tuna fisheries and the marine environment. The positive environmental and socio- economic impacts of these fisheries mean that they have the extraordinary potential to contribute to several different goals at any one time.

It is IPNLF’s belief that if carefully managed, Indonesia’s one- by-one tuna fisheries could bring greater benefits to the country’s coastal communities, many of which are hugely reliant on these traditional fishing methods for employment, income, and as a source of essential protein and wellbeing. As such, for more than four years, IPNLF has been working to bring industry, government and scientists closer together to ensure the ecological, social and economic sustainable development of Indonesia’s one-by-one tuna fisheries.

Our current efforts in Indonesia have two main focus areas: firstly, developing the fishery; and secondly, strengthening the local pole-and-line and handline fisheries association Asosiasi Perikanan Pole & Line dan Handline (AP2HI) which includes promoting the fisheries and their products in end markets. Through a partnership project with AP2HI and local NGO Masyarakat dan Perikanan Indonesia (MDPI), we want to demonstrate the value that a well-managed fishery can bring to coastal communities, increasing the returns to some of the most impoverished communities in Indonesia.

From our experiences on the ground, we know that Indonesia’s one-by-one tuna fisheries are generally environmentally and socially responsible, but for the evolving markets of today, data to evidence these credentials is required. As such, with our partners, we have been focusing on enhancing data collection activities through onboard observers and time- lapse cameras, vessel trackers and portside enumerators. On top of this, we are working to create greater transparency in how these fisheries operate and improve existing traceability systems.

With regards to our in-county engagement, we continue to benefit from the excellent support of the Government of Indonesia, which through the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), shares our belief and ambitions. Like us, the Ministry sees the nation’s future in the ocean and is determined to pave the way for sustainable fisheries through its three pillars of priority: sovereignty, sustainability and prosperity. This close alignment was evident at the recent 3rd Bali Tuna Conference (BTC) and 6th International Coastal Tuna Business Forum (ICTBF) where delegates witnessed the ratification of a special joint agreement between MMAF, IPNLF and 14 buyers, brands and retailers that have made a commitment to preferentially source Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified one-by-one tuna (once certified) over non-certified tuna from Indonesia.

This new promise seeks to ensure continued cooperation to build a common understanding on the importance of MSC certification for stakeholders; prioritise work steams and activities to further accelerate the MSC process; promote the value of MSC certification; strengthen collaboration and commitments and continue knowledge sharing. This was a very clear demonstration of responsible businesses seizing the opportunity that Indonesia’s fisheries provide and making a commitment to support a coastal fishery that is striving to retain its market competitiveness and receive due recognition for its environmental and social sustainability.

While MSC certification is necessary for Indonesian one-by-one tuna fisheries to secure greater market access and provide a catalyst for improving data collection systems, traceability and capacity building and ultimately to increase the demand for the country’s pole-and-line and handline tuna products, true sustainability goes well beyond MSC and the sustainability of fish stocks. IPNLF has been focusing on enhancing data collection activities using new technology such as low-cost vessel trackers Seafood businesses everywhere must be inclusive of one-by-one tuna fishing operations such as in Indonesia

Looking at the bigger picture – the one-by-one tuna world, if you like – the sustainability of the communities that these fisheries support is vital. As such, seafood businesses everywhere must be careful not to exclude small-scale operators from their supply chains when making sourcing commitments, but rather be inclusive of one-by-one tuna fishing operations, to both support coastal tuna fisheries and enable their own business to strengthen the value of its contribution towards achieving the SDGs. Through Indonesia’s demonstration of the benefits that a well-managed fishery can bring to coastal tuna fishing communities and local businesses, this initiative will hopefully show the rest of Southeast Asia and beyond that it’s feasible to both capitalise on the huge international demand for sustainable tuna and also safeguard the future of coastal communities for many generations to come. Moreover, (and let me end with this), it poses three broad but related sustainability questions to international businesses regarding their approach to responsible sourcing: have you fully evaluated both the environmental and social impacts of your procurement policies; can you increase your support for small-scale fisheries and the many livelihoods that depend upon them; and can you contribute more to the UN SDGs?

This article was originally written for Infofish International Magazine and published in the July 2018 edition.