Readers may remember an older blog that gave an overview of fishery improvement projects (FIPs) where we mentioned the two FIP types: basic and comprehensive. In this post, we aim to dissect each type further, explaining their key differences, how each has led to success stories on the water, and how NAI/BSI are utilizing both in our sustainability strategy.

As awareness grew around the impacts of fishing practices, stakeholders set out to find models for transitioning fishing practices to more environmentally friendly methods. To this end, certifications have been one of the fastest-growing and most valuable tools to verify best practices and reassure consumers that they are supporting sustainable production systems.

However, certification may not be realistic for some fisheries. Many fisheries, especially those with data limitations, are far from meeting all the requirements of a certification program, or do not have the resources to pursue certification. This is where FIPs come in. Where a fishery isn’t yet ready for certification, FIPs are an alternative tool that provide a stepping stone on the path toward improved sustainability.

FIPs are designed to address environmental concerns, such as bycatch and habitat impacts, by applying practical solutions. They draw upon market forces and implement timebound, detailed work plans. These projects strongly rely upon multi-stakeholder participation, and while many FIPs are established and initially managed by NGOs, equally strong gains can be achieved when FIPs are managed directly by the private-sector companies that rely on that fishery.

 

 

 

Basic vs. Comprehensive

As FIPs have evolved, the diversity in approaches led to two main models: basic and comprehensive. A full accounting of the recognized definitions of basic and comprehensive FIPs is provided in the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions FIP Guidelines.

Simply put, basic FIPs are good entry points for fisheries that want to address specific environmental challenges. A comprehensive FIP, however, builds upon the characteristics of a basic FIP by aiming to address the full range of environmental challenges in a fishery that would be necessary to achieve an unconditional pass of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard (see above Guidelines). This does not necessarily mean the FIP is guaranteed to seek the blue logo, though there have been several cases of this transition thus far.

In essence, the easiest way to distinguish between FIPs is by the scope of their stated goals. Further differences between the two FIP models exist in reporting frequency and the level of third-party verification of progress.

Impact of FIPs

Recent analyses indicate that over 250 individual fisheries around the world are housed under roughly 100 active FIPs, covering almost 10% of global landings and growing. Both basic and comprehensive FIP models have shown that they can be successful market-based tools to achieve real on-the-water improvements. Their impact is particularly evident in developing regions, where volumes of FIP landings far outstrip those of certified seafood. Whereas small-scale producers might otherwise be tempted to throw their hands up in the face of significant sustainability challenges, FIPs and the market recognition they offer provide an incentive for continuous improvement and collective action.

 

Our Involvement

NAI/BSI have made FIPs a key part of our sustainability strategy, and we’re continuing to expand our engagement. We are engaging with or sourcing from five FIPs thus far, a mix of both basic and comprehensive models, and actively co-manage two of them:

We have seen the strength of the FIP model directly through the two that NAI/BSI co-manages: the Indonesian Longline Demersal Fish FIP and the Indian Ocean Longline Tuna and Large Pelagics FIP. At the onset of the Demersal FIP, recognized issues included a lack of data and management plan for snapper and grouper fisheries in the region, risks of illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, and challenges with bycatch from trawl gear.

Rather than start by tackling all concerns at once, this FIP has taken a ‘basic’ approach to its efforts, focusing on the highest priorities within a discrete fishery. Namely, to increase the available data used for stock assessments and management decisions, and equip vessels with electronic tracking systems. This was a significant step towards full traceability across both large and small boats. Further, observers have been placed on vessels to record scientific data and monitor bycatch. Focusing exclusively on the highest priority environmental impacts allows the FIP to direct limited resources as effectively as possible.

In another approach, our collaborators at WWF are implementing the large-scale Vietnam Yellowfin Tuna FIP under the comprehensive model. These efforts began with an MSC pre-assessment in 2013, where the fishery’s status was weighed against the key principles of the MSC standard. This assessment revealed challenges with insufficient management measures and data–lessons subsequently fed into an action plan to guide stakeholders forward. With actions covering each of the MSC standard’s 28 indicators, the FIP is aiming to achieve MSC certification by 2020.

Wherever a fishery starts in its improvement journey, it is crucial for the seafood businesses, fishermen, fishery managers, and scientists involved to come together with a common goal of strengthening the environmental responsibility of the fishery. Ultimately, some FIPs even go above and beyond traditional FIP definitions to include social and traceability components.

This is where NAI believes the community-based fisheries management model comes in. While existing eco-certifications are an excellent end-goal for some fisheries, small-scale communities may realize equal or even greater benefits in an integrated management model where the community is empowered to oversee the resources, product quality and value are maximized, and benefits are distributed along the value chain. Our work in Sumbawa, Indonesia, aims to do just that: progress along a stepwise path from FIPs to a fully executed, robust model of community-based, commercially sponsored fisheries management, incorporating traceability and social components alongside environmental factors. What’s more, this model is both scalable and transferable–a promising solution for many other small-scale fisheries worldwide.