Sustainable partnerships make for sustainable business

Businesses with the foresight to recognise that the longevity of their businesses is underpinned by a sustainable supply of fish should be actively engaged in the protection of these resources. It is with this rationale that the Responsible Fisheries Alliance (RFA) was established in 2009.

The RFA is a partnership between major fishing corporates, I&J, Oceana, Pioneer Fishing, Sea Harvest and Viking Fishing, and environmental NGOs, WWF-SA and BirdLife South Africa. The partnership is premised on the need to inform and promote responsible fishing practices within the South African fisheries sector. In lieu of the impacts of overfishing and other unsustainable marine uses, the RFA seeks to harness the influence of these leading brands to galvanise the fishing sector and drive positive change. Whilst a NGO-corporate partnership of this nature is not unique to South Africa, using this model to address environmental concerns in the fishing sector is a novel approach.

In order to achieve this vision of a responsible fishing industry, since its initiation, the RFA members have invested over R 3 million in support of several projects informing ecosystems-based management to better understand and mitigate the impacts of harmful fishing practices. Some of the most notable projects include supporting the work championed by BirdLife South Africa and the deep sea trawl industry on a series of projects resulting in a 90% reduction in seabird mortalities, including a remarkable 99% reduction in the deaths of the many majestic albatross species. This success story is the key focus of the WWF-SASSI #SASSIstories campaign in October. The campaign enables consumers to share this success story whilst providing them with the opportunity to share their own sustainable seafood stories.

The RFA has also supported research on another iconic species, the African penguin. This research is focused on populations on the south and west coasts to better understand the impact of fishing activities on these endangered species. Furthermore, the RFA has helped to initiate an important collaboration between the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the South East Coast Inshore Fishing Association (SECIFA) to develop and trial an improved bycatch management plan which considers a broader range of bycatch species landed in the fishery. Perhaps one of the most important RFA contributions has been the training of more than 1100 skippers, crew, observers, compliance officers and law enforcement officials with the skills to better comprehend and contribute toward ecosystems-based management. The training course has catalysed a greater appreciation for marine life among those that operate at the ‘coal face’ of the ocean. Coupled with these conservation gains, the Alliance has also played a critical role in fostering the co-management of fisheries through collaborative efforts between government and the fishing industry.

Despite these successes, like any start-up, the RFA still faces a number of challenges. There is clearly significant potential for an organisation such as the RFA to effect large scale change but there are limitations both in terms of funding available and the extent to which the Alliance is willing and able to use its voice to lobby for change within government or the fishing industry. Going forward, it will be important for the Alliance to develop a more prominent public presence on topical issues that undermine responsible fisheries. The Alliance’s ability to better address competitive barriers will also be key to its future success. It is now well understood that environmental sustainability is one of the areas that businesses are willing to collaborate around, however, with so many different companies and interests involved, setting up effective pre-competitive collaborations such as the RFA remains a challenging task.

Looking ahead, the RFA now seeks to focus on interventions that will benefit the broader fishing sector to address the challenges identified. Lobbying for evidence-based decision making, ensuring a robust marine legislative framework, promoting the application of ecosystems-based management and safeguarding sustainable marine uses from unfavourable practices have been identified as the key focus areas. Projects will be elected which contribute towards these areas of work.

Whether it is to leverage off of the demand for sustainable seafood from increasingly aware consumers or for the protection of marine resources, it is clear that sustainability is central to the success of corporate fishing companies. By forming collaborative partnerships such as that of the RFA, the fishing sector will continue to build resilient ecosystems and reliable fish stocks and, in doing so, secure business success in years to come.