What are Fisheries Improvement Projects?

Fish populations around the world have been declining in the last few decades and there are serious and escalating concerns regarding overfishing as a result of the seafood industry’s enormous impact on the economy, health and well-being of millions of people. How is this happening? The cause of this decline is no mystery. When some people think of fishing, they imagine relaxing in a boat and patiently reeling in the days catch. For years, commercial fishing fleets have been multiplying, and have gotten better at finding and catching fish using state of the art equipment. Overfishing has led to the depletion and endangerment of many species of fish. On top of rounding-up massive amounts of fish, some of these fisheries can unintentionally catch other species like seabirds, turtles, and dolphins.

There are many ways to tackle the issue of overfishing and It’s important to consider all possible solutions. One of the most direct approaches to challenge of overfishing is to undertake fishery improvement projects (FIP). A FIP is an initiative that brings together fishers, scientists, and other stakeholders to identify environmental challenges in a fishery and develops a stepwise approach to tackle those challenges. FIPs use the influence of the private sector businesses such as retailers and restaurants to create incentives for positive changes in a fishery’s environmental sustainability.

The goal of a FIP is to create measurable change that will meet the standard of environmental sustainability set by the Marine Stewardship Council, reflects the latest science and best management practices widely adopted by the world’s leading fisheries management organizations. WWF is part of this FIP journey  with the East coast rock lobster fishery and Squid jig fishery, among others.

While different fishery improvement projects may address different aspects of sustainable fisheries, and be of different sizes, they are all required to includes these core components. The first component is to set a shared goal that fisheries meet MSC standards which is formed through a signed memorandum of understanding. Secondly, the project work plan should have clearly defined goals and a timeline that allows for easy tracking of its progress. Thirdly, in addition to stakeholders being active participants, it is important for FIP to have the support of groups providing funding or in-kind support. Lastly, transparency is a hallmark of effective FIPs and gives stakeholders confidence that the project is creating measurable change on the environment.

Look out for certain species on the WWF-SASSI list, carrying the FIP banner, and remember, you have a choice. Make it green.

Bokamoso Lebepe, WWF’s Fisheries Improvement Programme Coordinator 

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