The two big mismatches that disqualify certifications from being a valid solution for small-scale fisheries lie in the core difference of the end seafood buyer. 

Mismatch 1: Certification Utility for Buyer –  Certifications have been designed to help the seafood buyer get more information about how their seafood was caught. This is helpful for someone in a city who is disconnected from the source of their food, but isn’t as applicable to local markets which represent over 90% of seafood consumption in developing countries. 

Mismatch 2: Implementation Costs – The monitoring and quality control requirements for certifications make them expensive. While it is a worthwhile investment at a large-scale operation, for artisanal fishermen it is not practical. And the value of the certification is diminished in a local market where buyers are less interested in the certification.

To learn more about seafood certifications, see this quick guide to seafood certifications

While certifications don’t offer a translatable solution, FIPs do… with a few adjustments.

Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs)

FIPs were also designed for large-scale fisheries but do offer a better solution for small-scale operations. Cost and implementation are also challenges for FIPs, but as we will see, these challenges are already being addressed. 

How FIPs Work

FIPs bring together stakeholders within the supply chain to reach consensus on better management of their fishery. This can include:

  • retailers 
  • processors 
  • producers 
  • fishermen
  • NGOs 

The result is a plan to reach sustainability, which all stakeholders within the fishery can follow. Data collection, monitoring, and regulation are all set up through the FIP.  Achieving various certifications can be part of a FIP plan, but is not required. 

FIPs are most often initiated and led by an NGO like Ocean Outcomes, which specializes in developing and implementing FIPs on behalf of the stakeholders within the fishery. They can also be started and managed by any other party within the fishery, but require buy-in from the majority of stakeholders.

The FIPs model of fishery management has gained considerable traction since its implementation. The number of FIPs has grown exponentially over the last 15 years.

(CEA pg. 6) 2020 Global Landscape Review of Fishery Improvement Projects

The majority of FIPs have been created to manage large-scale operations, but in the last five years more FIPs have been initiated in small-scale fisheries, following the success of larger projects. 

The FIP Challenge

As with certifications, the original FIP model is a mismatch for small-scale fisheries which diminishes their chance for success. 

These are some of the main challenges the model mismatch is facing:

Improvement Focus – Initial FIP models are primarily focused on solving environmental issues and reaching certification for seafood buyers in the destination market. Small-scale fisheries have a need for more social and economic solutions that will directly impact their community and quality of life.

Reporting & Regulation Framework – Industrial fleets are more consolidated and have fewer actors to engage/regulate. Artisanal fleets have more actors, making reporting and regulation more challenging.

Investment Incentives – Large markets are driven by clear economic incentives that make sense at scale. The startup cost of setting up the organizational structure is paid back when the seafood is sold at a higher market price. The startup cost for small-scale fisheries can be just as high, but the return on investment for the parties involved is not as great.   

Top-Down Governance – The majority of commercial fleets are operated out of developed countries with established policy and regulation for fisheries. This type of top-down governance is missing in many developing countries where the majority of small-scale fisheries operate, leaving little to no foundation for FIPs to improve. 

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