FIP: A New Approach to Sustainable Seafood

(3BL Media/Justmeans) -FIP—add that acronym to the list of terms we need to know more about. It stands for Fishery Improvement Project, a new, collaborative method to deal with overfishing through a multi-stakeholder initiative. FIP members include producers, NGOs, fishery managers, foundations, governmental groups, and various agents of fishery supply chains—organizations from diverse areas of the seafood industry that have not previously worked together toward a more sustainable seafood production. This innovative, collective approach offers focused, multiple resources to bear on an urgent problem: how to sustainably manage seafood, which makes up one-fifth of the world’s animal protein diet, and which is in short supply around the world as stocks decline due to overfishing.

Guidelines for FIPs have been developed by the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, a group of North American NGOS that works to ensure a long-term seafood supply. To be publicly recognized, FIPs must make measurable progress towards a level of sustainability set by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Get the picture? Lots of credible, experienced players in and around the seafood industry are cooperating to resolve their common issue: how the seafood sector can up its sustainability game.

A prime example of an FIP is the recent initiative announced by the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) and Darden Restaurants, parent company of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Bahama Breeze, among others, at this fall’s annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting. Participants in CGI are invited to attend on the basis of commitments of funds and other resources toward new efforts to resolve major problems. This year, WFF led a CGI Commitment to Action in partnership with Darden, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and the New England Aquarium to develop a Fishery Improvement Partnership Fund. The Fund will leverage philanthropic, industry, and government dollars to support FIP projects in the seafood industry. It will be managed by NFWF and advised by the New England Aquarium. This new commitment is in addition to Darden’s 2011 CGI commitment to rebuild troubled fisheries through three targeted FIPs.

As the Fund’s initial project, WFF, Darden, and its partners will work to improve the sustainable management of the spiny lobster fishery in Honduras. That industry exports $50 million worth of lobsters to the U.S. annually, and provides 4,000 jobs in a country with a low level economy. Current management strategies and weak governance have made the Honduran harvest unsustainable. Particularly troublesome are the hundreds of injuries and deaths among scuba divers who, because of declining stocks, use unsafe diving practices—diving longer and deeper—in their harvesting. The Fund’s project will use a holistic approach to the management and sustainability of the trap fishery, and to the enhancement of the Honduran communities, which depend on the industry for its economic health.

It is estimated that it would take 400 such FIPs to meet the demand for sustainable seafood sourcing at current levels. Only some 80 are currently active today, so there is much work to be done. The Fishery Improvement Partnership Fund is a model project within a pioneering methodology. It should be flattered by having many imitators.