REPORT: Seafood Sustainability/ FIP Meetings, Mexico City

Since August of this year I have had the opportunity to attend and present in different workshops geared towards understanding FIPs and seafood sustainability. These experiences have not only reinforced ideas I had about seafood sustainability, but also provided a clearer understanding on how smaller NGOs view conservation efforts and their relationship with industry, and have helped reshape the role Sea Delight Ocean Fund (SDOF) plays and created a space for SDOF to be that bridge connecting industry with smaller NGOs that are just starting to dab into organizing their projects under the Fishery Improvement Project (FIPs) umbrella.

August, 2016- The Central America Regional FIP Workshop. Mexico City, Mexico.

During this meeting, I was surprised at the lack of attendance from the seafood industry. It can be challenging to make the business case for supporting FIPs when industry is not present. I can certainly discuss market trends and demands for responsibly sourced seafood in North America, but I certainly do not represent the entire seafood industry and can only speak from our experience.

We cannot cater to industry needs.” This was a  comment I received during one of the smaller group sessions I was leading.  The concern is that smaller NGOs traditionally work on conservation efforts only. The table discussion led to this understanding that we must know our audience. It certainly is not about catering to industry needs but understanding that industry can be an ally in helping support conservation efforts. Having market access for products that are part of a FIP and the interest from companies in sourcing these products, can be used to exert government pressure to enact, enforce, and follow through with regulations that benefit better fishery management efforts and also provide some funding.

It became evident that improving government-NGO-industry relations is imperative in order to achieve common goals. My message to the participating representatives of the local governmental institutions is to see NGOs as tools that can be used to achieve better fishery management goals; specially through data collection, stock assessments, research, etc.

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October, 2016-  Workshops for Certification and Promotion of Sustainable Fishing organized by Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI). Mexico City, Mexico.

From October 17 to 21, 2016, 74 representatives of the fishing and aquaculture sector: federations and fisher’s cooperatives, NGOs, officials and researchers from Instituto Nacional de Pesca (INAPESCA) and Comisión Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca (CONAPESCA), national and foreign consultants, Entrepreneurs, government agencies such as Trust Funds for Rural Development (FIRA) and National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), together with COBI and the Senate Fisheries and Aquaculture Commission, met to review and analyze the Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIP) and the three international standards: Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, and  Fair Trade, which promote fisheries sustainability in order to achieve sustainable and socially responsible use of resources, and the protection and conservation of Coastal and marine ecosystems.

I was invited by COBI to participate in a panel to discuss “Market Trends for Sustainable Seafood and FIPs as Access to Market” alongside representatives from Quirch Foods, Walmart Mexico, and a local producer, Nemi Natura.  During this panel we were able to share how the markets are increasingly requesting products that are responsibly sourced.  Interestingly, Walmart Mexico is looking to work with local producers to support their sustainability efforts by placing their products in their stores; which has been challenging before because of lack of volume, competitive price, and also payment time frames which do not work with smaller producers (45+ days).

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There is a real need for producers and fisheries to understand the market where their product is placed and what is the best certification needed (if they choose to seek certification). They need to be prepared to face new demands of the market (from consumers, restaurants, hotels, among others) for sustainability and social responsibility throughout the value chain. Participating in Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs) allows producers to respond to these market demands while preparing to undergo certification if they choose to.

November, 2016. “Dialogue on innovation in financing and investment for sustainable fishing” organized by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) of Mexico. Mexico City, Mexico.

During this meeting, panelist and presenters reviewed different credit/ financing opportunities that producers could have access to in order to help transition towards seafood sustainability. Some of the issues that were raised were related to high interest rates, the inability to use fishing licences and quotas as collateral, lack of access to lower rate investments on a timely manner, and lack of assistance to small producers to be able to complete the applications.

There are financing opportunities available through resources in the “Banca Mexicana,” interest by international investors to invest in sustainability, a growth in impact funding, and an increase in demand for sustainable seafood. However, there continues to be a lack of a regulatory framework which affects fisheries management.

Even though we were discussing financing sustainable fishing practices, during the dialogue, no definition for sustainable fishing or sustainable seafood was provided. During my presentation, I tried to provide background information for what are FIPs, define sustainability from an industry perspective, and focus on how customers in the USA define their commitments for responsible seafood based on certifications (such as BAP/MSC), Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, or support in FIPs. Most importantly, I encouraged participants already working on improvement efforts in the fisheries they source from to organize themselves as a FIP, and create a profile in Fishery Progress website so that they can promote their improvement efforts, connect with companies interested in support their FIPs, have access to market for their products, and also connect with buyers looking to source products from the FIPs they are leading.

The message remains the same- From a business perspective, producers need to understand their customers and be aware of their sustainability commitments so that they can better adjust/transition towards achieving sustainability and market recognition for these efforts. Also, working with local NGOs is essential to help with the technical support to improve a fishery. Government engagement is imperative in order to improve management, enforce regulation, and support activities to achieve sustainability.

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Adriana Sanchez @seafoodninja  is the Sustainability Director for Sea Delight, LLC, and the President of the Sea Delight Ocean Fund, Inc., Adriana is responsible for coordinating development efforts and support for Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) in Indonesia, Vietnam, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica.  Her areas of expertise include strategic planning, evaluation, management of international and multicultural teams and projects as well as fostering partnerships with members of the seafood industry and other conservation groups to assist in the proper development and implementation of Sea Delight’s sustainability initiatives.

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