From Undercurrent News

June 25, 2014, 4:59 pm
Jeanine Stewart / Mahi Mahi photo – by Erik Charlton

mahi-mahiLatin American fisheries development group CeDePesca is launching a fisheries improvement project (FIP) for the Guatamala mahi mahi fishery in partnership with five US suppliers and six Guatemala-based entities.

All of the parties have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to work together on the project, CeDePesca’s chairman and founder Ernesto Godelman told Undercurrent News on Tuesday.

The project has seed money from the Walmart Foundation through the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), which enabled the partners to conduct a gap analysis against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard as a basis for a work-plan to get stakeholders pulled in and the MOU off the ground.

The US suppliers involved — Incredible Fish, Sea Delight, Tasty Seafoods, Stavis Seafoods and Southern Fisheries — are now providing two thirds of the remaining funding for the project and creating the conditions for success by talking to both ends of the supply chain, from the suppliers to the retailers, Godelman said.

The other one third of the funding will come from Guatamala-based processors, which include Pesca SA, Mar de Cristal SA, Samaritana SA, Pamypa and Procesos Puerto Alto. They are also gathering data and steer the process.

In addition to the initial funding from Walmart, retailers across the country are calling for enhanced verification of sustainability in their supply chains, and that means major buyers such as Wegman’s, Kroger and Publix are requesting their suppliers to be involved on FIPs, Godelman said.

“A lot of people are motivated by FIPs at this time because the retailers are turning up the heat and putting the pressure on,” Tim Lycke, president of Incredible Fish, said.

Wegman’s VP of sustainability Carl Salamone said the company is in strong support of the FIP, although whether or not to offer a premium as a result is still under consideration. The reasons are that fresh mahi mahi has become a staple item in its stores, and FIPs help native fishermen understand the importance of securing product for the long term.

“We have encouraged suppliers to become part of a FIP-Tim at Incredible was very pro-active in this endeavor,” Salamone told Undercurrent.

Fishery work begins

With all this customer interest, getting involved in the FIP may seem like a no-brainer. Yet the commitment is not without sacrifices.

FIPs are known to take years and involve extensive efforts to get all parties to cooperate. Biomass data alone can take time to gather, and that is just the beginning building block for managers to get a set of reference points to work on as they set fishing limits.

Then, of course, there are gear types and enforcement of fishing licenses, to name a few more hurdles that make part of a management plan. Yet amidst these hurdles, the project is off and running.

“At the first meeting of the project, the results of the gap analysis were presented and some increase in price was discussed in order to provide an immediate incentive to the fishermen participating of the FIP activities,” Godelman said.

Whether the price incentives will happen remains to be seen, but the data gathering effort already seems to be a go with the commitment from the National Federation of Artisanal Fishermen (FENAPESCA).

In Guatemala, Fenapesca is helping to collect fisheries data by getting local companies to contribute information on the catch, Godelman said.

This data will be a huge boon to the project, considering the main weaknesses to be solved are a lack of statistics and regional stock assessment, as well as a lack of management system at both local and regional levels.

Given the highly migratory strait of this species, this task needs to be solved at regional level, Godelman said. The Guatemala FIP is attempting to contribute to this purpose on two levels: the first is using historical records from local companies to rebuild a data base of exported volumes per size; the second is through the participation of fishermen to gather this information from now on, he added.

As part of the initial activities of the FIP, some promising meetings have been already held with Guatemalan authorities to get them actively involved with the goals of the project.

Lack of systematic monitoring of impacts on ecosystem components such as turtles is also a major problem the project aims to address.

Because it is an artisanal fishery, there are hundreds of small boats that make short fishing trips and spread their landings out around the region. Although price agreements aren’t final yet, the possibility of a price premium for the FIP is on the table.

Roots go way back

The seed of this particular project was born in 2012 at a mahi mahi roundtable discussion in Miami organized by SFP.

At the 2012 meeting, the owners of Tasty Seafood and Incredible Fish asked CeDePesca about doing a FIP in Guatemala.

The result? CeDePesca and SFP teamed up to get a minimum fund established so that they could perform the gap analysis.

After the meeting, Cedepesca requested some of the suppliers to send letters to their providers in Guatemala to introduce CeDePesca and expressing its interest in a FIP. This opened the doors of the local companies to CeDePesca people in Guatemala.

“One year later, we knocked on the doors of Tasty and Incredible [and said] ‘hey guys, we did what you suggested! Are you willing to continue with that now?” Godelman said. “They were amazed and said yes, so here we are now.”

Retailer support key to take off

A key turning point for the project was a meeting on Feb. 27, since that is where fishermen, exporters and importers got together around one table to discuss the FIP.

“The meeting was well attended and could not have been any more positive,” said Lycke, from Incredible Fish.

“It was an amazing experience to have the whole supply chain at the meeting,” commented Adriana Sanchez-Lindsay, from Sea Delight. “The fishermen, nor us, had in the past the possibility of being face to face to discuss our business together.”