Fish represent one of the most important sources of animal protein, feeding the world’s population while accounting for approximately 17 percent of global protein consumption. In fact, in many developing nations, more than half of the protein consumed comes from eating fish. And nearly 200 million people worldwide rely directly or indirectly for employment on the fishing and seafood industries.
Sustainability is crucial to maintain and preserve this vital source of nutrition and employment.
When people discuss how to best approach long-term sustainable development in the fishing and seafood industry, terms often used are fisheries and fishery improvement projects (FIPs). Because these terms are used so often, it is incredibly important they are understood more widely so we can all achieve our sustainability goals.
What is a fishery?
A fishery is simply an area used for fishing in a variety of ways, for a variety of species. The term can refer to several things:
- A geographic location where seafood is caught, for example a particular area of an ocean;
- A seafood breeding facility, sometimes known as hatcheries or aquaculture farms;
- Commercial seafood harvesting operations, ranging anywhere from a single professional fisherman to an extensive fleet of fishing boats;
- Or, classified by the type of seafood species caught or raised, catch methods and the class of boats used for fishing.
Overfishing represents a grave global threat
There are serious and escalating concerns regarding overfishing as a result of the seafood industry’s enormous impact on the economy, health and wellbeing of millions of people. Nearly 30 percent of global commercial fish stocks are considered overexploited, while approximately 60 percent are producing catches at or close to their maximum sustainable yield.
When fish reproduction cannot keep pace with amount of fish being caught, this impacts marine biodiversity and ocean health, economic vitality for communities and industries, and food security and nutrition for the world’s growing population.
Since at least one billion people around the globe depend on seafood for nourishment and employment, the sustainability of fisheries is an urgent concern that must be taken seriously.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) operates the world’s most credible standard for the certification of sustainable wild-caught seafood
Well-managed fisheries that ensure long-term sustainability of fish stocks and keep ecosystems healthy can be certified to conform to the MSC standard, and their products sold with the MSC ecolabel. This standard has been developed in consultation with scientists and marine experts. It reflects the latest science and best management practices widely adopted by the world’s leading fisheries management organizations.
More than 300 fisheries globally are certified to the MSC standard, representing close to 10 percent of the total global wild-caught seafood by volume. Although the MSC program continues to grow, increasing the accessibility of the MSC’s certification to more fisheries is critical.
FIPs address environmental challenges in a fishery
For sustainable development, it is incredibly vital that more fisheries meet MSC standards for certification. FIPs are an important component of this concept.
FIPs are essentially marine conservation efforts consisting of multiple stakeholders working to address environmental challenges in a fishery. Those stakeholders develop a plan to address the various challenges in front of them and collaborate to implement that plan. The plan could include changes in fishery policy, implementing harvest control rules or changing fishing practices.
A critical part of a fishery improvement project is to track its performance and report it publicly, so the process is transparent. Guidelines have been established to ensure FIPs deliver real improvements that meet the expectations of key organizations such as the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. The Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions is also involved in FIPs and is an umbrella organization, which connects leading conservation groups that work with businesses representing over 80 percent of the North American grocery and food-service markets.
While FIPs may prioritize different aspects of sustainable fisheries and be different sizes — depending on the needs of the local ecosystem and communities — all FIPs share a common structure that includes these core components:
- A shared goal that fisheries meet MSC standards;
- Engagement of participants in the project, including companies in the supply chain and other stakeholders;
- Participation must include financial or in-kind support for the project in addition to actively supporting the work plan;
- Public commitment formed through a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU);
- A work plan which includes measurable indicators and milestones along with a defined timeframe;
- Budgets and deadlines defined in the work plan and agreed upon by stakeholders;
- Tracking and reporting to ensure progress is shared at regular intervals.
New communications tools are being developed to share progress on FIPs, such as through www.fisheryprogress.org, to help make the journey towards seafood sustainability more transparent. Looking ahead, it is easy to see why FIPs are becoming increasingly important to the world’s oceans and a future of sustainable fish.