Fair Trade Tuna is the First of its School

(3BL Media and Just Means)- When I first became a piscatarian, I thought I was choosing a more ethically conscious diet. Oh, how I was wrong. Exploitation in the seafood industry is as rampant as in most other commodity markets. Trafficking, low-to-no wages, and unsafe conditions are common. The biggest difference is that the exploitation happens in the middle of the ocean where the only escape is overboard. But Fair Trade USA is working to change this story. And it starts with the first fish of its kind: Fair Trade tuna.  

In partnership with Safeway supermarket retailer, Fair Trade tuna will be available in all of their Northern California, Portland and Seattle Division stores in March. This comes after several years of research and partnership with local fisherman from Indonesia, fishermen who own small boats and catch large tuna with a single, hand line and handmade kites. Fair Trade USA began receiving inquiries for Fair Trade aquaculture and wild capture seafood five years ago when exploitation in the fishing industry was exposed.

“Fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. It’s a nameless, faceless industry with no regard for human life,” says Maya Spaull, Director of New Category Innovation at Fair Trade USA.  

Fishing is a $70 billion industry that employs 120 million people. Fair Trade USA knew there was potential for big impact. However, they also knew that before they could change labor conditions on large shipping vessels, they needed to test the standards with 120 small scale fishermen.

“For phase one of this program, we’ve looked at issues faced by small scale fishers, like safety, training and access to market. Fish are extremely perishable. If you are a small scale fishermen and if you don’t have ice or the methodology to deliver a quality product to buyers, you’re not able to earn income to support yourself and your family,” says Spaull.

Fair Trade USA has worked to create Fisher Associations among the local fishermen. Just as in any other fair trade cooperative, leaders are democratically elected to represent the association to manage the fair trade premium, which in this case is 10% of the dockside price of every Fair Trade tuna sold.

“When you visit, the fishermen introduce themselves as president or secretary of the Fair Trade Committee. It’s exciting for them and they are proud to be part of the Fishers Association. Small scale fishers’ voices are usually unheard, but we believe that this model will get them on the pathway to manage their most valuable resource,” explains Spaull.

Safeway will carry frozen, Fair Trade tuna in their Seattle and Portland stores while Fair Trade USA works with exporter Anova to expand the supply and certify more Fisher Associations. The goal is to reach the mainstream consumer with a price point of no more than 30 cents per pound above conventional.  

“We want to double the amount of supply,” says Spaull. “By working with Safeway, we will reach the mainstream consumer who will buy tuna for their grill or for Lent for their family,” she says.

Fair Trade tuna is only the beginning for the Fair Trade Fisheries program. Fair Trade USA is working to create standards and cooperatives for a variety of seafood. Personally, I’m looking forward to the day I can order a fair trade rainbow roll and yellow fin sashimi. I think that day is almost here.

Read more about Fair Trade Fisheries. Read a story about the Komite Fair Trade Tuna Assilulu. Follow Fair Trade USA’s seafood program.