A Think Tank and a Shark Tank

27 Jul 2017
Indah Rufiati

MDPI and our partners are proud to share the outcomes of our recent Think Tank on Small Scale Fisheries.

Why are small fisheries a big deal?

There has been a lot of focus around the world recently on tackling Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing – not least in Indonesia, where Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti has made this her mission – going as far as blowing up boats caught fishing illegally. In our work across Indonesia, MDPI grapples with the challenges that small scale fishers face to comply with regulations, report their activities and catches, and demonstrate they are fishing legally.

Seeing the common challenges faced by fishers across the Indonesian archipelago, and hearing of similar issues faced in other continents and oceans, MDPI saw a need for solutions that could help artisanal fishers transition to fishing in ways that are legal, reported and regulated (LRR). This assurance is not only vital for sustainable fisheries, but is becoming a necessity for fishing operations of any size to get access to international markets, particularly for high-end products.

Small catches are collected on the beach north of the capital Columbo in Sri Lanka. Photo credit: Paul Hilton / Earth Tree

Finding solutions to these challenges is vital for developing – and developed – countries around the world. Nine out of every ten fish workers globally are in artisanal fisheries. The industrial and small scale fishing sectors each take roughly half of the global fish catch, but small scale fisheries contribute much more to employment and to food security in developing nations. In Indonesia the importance of artisanal fishing is even greater – 95% of the country’s fish catch is taken by small scale fishers.

Most fishery regulations are written with the industrial sector in mind, leaving much of the artisanal fleet under the radar. Sometimes they are simply overlooked in the design of regulations, in other cases they are given well-meaning exemptions. But as Megan Bailey of Dalhousie University noted, “even if it’s done with the best of intentions, it is a disservice to leave artisanal fishers out of fishery regulations, when markets demand that seafood is caught legally and responsibly.”

Getting together the experts

To generate ideas and solutions, we partnered with Wageningen University & Research, the Asia Pacific based USAID Oceans and the Walton Family Foundation to host a Think Tank on “Moving Towards Legal, Reported and Regulated Status for Small Scale Fisheries” from July 18 – 20 2017 in Bali.

The event brought together NGOs, scientists, finance experts and government officials to investigate ways that small scale fishers can be helped to fish legally and responsibly, and have the means to prove it. The Walton Family Foundation offered seed funding to be awarded to the best emerging idea in support of small scale fishers.

The Think Tank kicked off with case studies from different parts of the world, from Madagascar, Indonesia, Alaska, South Africa and the Maldives. Presenters described the challenges those fisheries face, and groups discussed the efforts and interventions that had been made within each the fisheries and their levels of success. The group then discussed the many commonalities between those fisheries and their challenges. Remoteness plays a part in compliance whether you’re fishing in Java or Alaska, consulting with fishers when regulations are set up is as crucial in South Africa as the Maldives, and fishery management that leaves out the artisanal sector further marginalizes coastal communities whether they’re in Indonesia or Madagascar.

Day two started early with a visit to local fishers along Jimbaran Beach, a stone’s throw from Bali’s busy international airport and a thriving tourist area with many high-end resorts and restaurants. Despite this, the fishers we met with would struggle to access the export and high-value markets on their doorstep. Most would have been classed, by default, as “IUU”. Their small boats are designed to be launched from the beach, but the nearby port was the only designated site at which they could officially land their catch. Without using that port, they lacked the exit and entry permits to match with the fish catch that they reported.

Fishing boats in Jimbaran, Bali. Photo credit: Paul Hilton / Earth Tree

For the next day and a half, smaller groups delved into five aspects of sustainable fisheries: Governance, Data, Social, Markets and Finance. Each group was asked to investigate that fishery component, consider the ideas and solutions that existed already, look at what had made them succeed or fail, and identify priority issues still to address. Groups then developed solutions, working also with experts from other groups to challenge and refine each other’s ideas and incorporate cross-cutting themes.

What came through this process was a smorgasbord of more than a dozen solutions, ranging from social media platforms and financial planning software to simple on-the-boat steps to prevent deterioration in fish quality from the moment it comes out of the water. Ideas also emerged for toolkits to better communicate with artisanal fishing groups and to promote the concept of ‘maximum economic benefit’ as a replacement to the outdated measure of ‘maximum sustainable yield’ in fisheries.

Interestingly, many of the solutions were indirect, focusing on securing better earnings for the fishers to lift them out of poverty and give them the breathing space to fish in more sustainable and responsible ways. As Garth Cripps of Blue Ventures explained “it’s very hard to put back an undersized octopus or respect the boundary of a protected area when you’re living from day to day on what you can catch.”

At the end of the Think Tank, participants were joined by a panel of five judges. In a ‘Shark Tank’ format (think reality TV! A Dragons’ Den for the oceans) each group presented their best proposal to support small scale fishers, faced questions from the panel of judges and other participants, and as the sun set the judges deliberated.

Ice, ice baby

Seed funding was allocated to a project that will identify where quality losses occur across six artisanal fisheries, with the aim of generating better income from existing catches. The peak value of a fish is at the moment it is caught, but without good handling from that moment to when it is sold, it loses quality – and critically, may fall below the lucrative ‘export quality’ level.

A yellowfin tuna caught by hand line off the Sangihe Islands in Indonesia. Photo credit: Paul Hilton / WCS

Rene Benguerel, speaking on MELIOMAR, a tuna company operated by Blueyou in Switzerland estimates that 70% of tuna landed in its sourcing country the Philippines could meet export quality standards – but at the moment the company only buys 3% of landings, those which met the export standards of European markets. Exported tuna is worth ~three times more than tuna fetches on the local market, so even simple steps to keep the fish in top condition – ice, careful handling and protection from the sun – can considerably boost fishers’ earnings. This in turn allows them to break cycles of debt, and gives the means and incentive to fish legally, follow regulations and report their catches.

Everybody wins if we find and fund solutions that allow small fishing communities to prove that they’re fishing legally and sustainably. The fishers themselves through better income, healthier reefs and fish stocks and access to export markets, fisheries managers through more data on what’s being caught, and consumers gaining access to seafood that is caught in some of the most ocean-friendly and people-friendly ways. By improving value of catches there may be a time where fishers could halve their catches and still double their incomes…. a win/win situation!

And now, what’s next?

A more comprehensive report outlining the results, giving some background on the amazing ‘thinkers’ we managed to gather in Bali and some next steps will be circulated in the near future. Watch this space and please do not hesitate to reach out if you would like more information or insight on the topic or the event and its outcomes.

The event has made us realize again how utterly important artisanal fisheries are, and how many passionate and motivated people are out there who want to make a difference for our small-scale fishers globally. This is an issue larger than any of us individually and so collaboration and coordination is needed. MDPI would like to again thank everyone who contributed to this event and we hope we can in a small way support this movement in the coming years. A special thanks goes to our partners on this event, the Walton Family Foundation, Wageningen University and Research and the Asia Pacific based USAID Oceans.

With thanks,

Momo Kochen, Director Programs and Research and all the team at MDPI


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