The Beginning of Ecolabel-Certified Fisheries in Maluku, Indonesia

Buru is a remote island that may not be on everyone’s radar. However, in the world of fisheries, Buru is renowned as the home of Indonesia’s export fishers. For a decade, small-scale fishers in Buru have adhered to international certification standards, creating waves of impact that extends beyond their local communities.

The Genesis of Fair Trade Fisheries in Maluku

These fishers are Fair Trade USA-certified, an eco-label certification organization focusing on social development and environmental conservation. In 2013, Fair Trade USA developed the Fair Trade USA Captured Fisheries Standard, a specific standard for wild seafood products. Anova Seafood and its supply chain in Indonesia agreed to test the first implementation of this certification, and partnered with MDPI as the ground implementer.

Since 2013, MDPI has ensured that the selected Anova Seafood’s supply chain complies with Fair Trade USA standards. This supply chain involves fishers, middlemen, and processing industries. MDPI initially assisted PT Harta Samudera, a seafood processing unit, and four small-scale fisher associations in Ambon and Buru, Maluku. Of the initial four groups, only Buru association manages to retain their certificate: the Wamrugut Tuna Bersatu.

The initial implementation: Small-scale fishers struggle to comply

MDPI staff facilitating a meeting for Fair Trade USA-certified fishers.
Umar Papalia, member of Wamrugut Tuna Bersatu Fisher Association, one of the first associations to be Fair Trade USA-certified.

Eco-labeled and non-labeled tuna appear identical physically—both are red, tasty, and of good quality. However, eco-labeled tuna production must adhere to complex socio-economic and environmental eco-label principles. Initially, this made fishers hesitant to comply with the hundreds of standards.

Certified tuna and regular tuna can look the same physically; both are red in color, taste like tuna, and are in high-quality. However, certified tuna undergoes complex procedures to comply with ecolabel standards. This initially dissuaded fishers from committing to the standards.

“At first, I was hesitant to follow Fair Trade USA’s eco-label standards,” said Umar Papalia, a member of the Wamrugut Tuna Bersatu Fisher Assosciation, one of the first Fair Trade USA-certified associations. He also explained that their association was often being involved in fraudulent programs where they were often exploited, which added to their concern.

Maintaining Certification for Fishers

The key tool for fishers to maintain certification, thus to their change of attitude and behavior, lies in the Fair Trade USA certification scheme, where a small portion of the profit margin from tuna sales in the export market flows back to them. This incentive, known as the Premium Fund, proved eye-opening for Umar, who realized the certification’s significant impact. In the initial years of eco-label implementation, fishers primarily utilized the incentives for communal village facilities and fishing equipment.

With the help of MDPI, they directed these funds towards social development initiatives such as additional places of worship and footpaths to fish landing sites. Over time, they extended the use of these funds to open fishers’ insurance accounts and children’s savings accounts. This transformation was guided by efforts to produce sustainably, by adhering to the sustainable qualities of Fair Trade USA standards.

Read also: Emergency Premium Funds Mobilized for Fair Trade Fisher Associations

Economic, Social, and Environmental Sustainability

MDPI staff facilitating a meeting for Fair Trade USA-certified fishers.
MDPI staff facilitating a meeting for Fair Trade USA-certified fishers.

“Many standards pose challenges for fishers to meet independently. We live with them, guide them, and ensure that eco-label standards are implemented by every stakeholder, particularly fishers,” said Yasmine “Jaz” Simbolon, MDPI Director, formerly responsible for the Fair Trade MDPI program.

Today, Fair Trade USA-certified Buru fishers are well-versed in sustainable fishing practices. They have also honed their skills in managing organizational and financial aspects through the Premium Fund for economic, social, and environmental purposes.

Based on the Buru experience, eco-label certification has demonstrated its value for small-scale fishers. With a little encouragement towards socio-economic and environmental sustainability, businesses can actively participate in sustainable fishing practices.

Read also: Anova’s Fair Trade Program in Indonesia