Growing retail demand for sustainable seafood from North America and Europe is creating economic opportunities for environment-friendly businesses closer to the fish and the men and women who catch and process them.
In the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, among the world’s richest fishing grounds, a new school of seafood companies is working to keep more of those riches in local communities. Investors will get a look at a half-dozen companies from the regions at next week’s finals of the Fish 2.0 business competition.
In Vanuatu, for example, ALFA Fishing, has grown into a major seafood brokerage, employing more than 3,000 people, mostly women. The Fiji Crab Co. is creating economic incentives to preserve the vital mangrove forests by actively cultivating mud crabs, providing high-value seafood to the local market and generating village-based jobs, primarily for women. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, fishing earns Pacific Island economies more than $2 billion per year.
“These small and medium-sized companies are already operating in an environmentally friendly way,” says David Gainer, the U.S. State Department’s acting director at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. “They are looking to expand their businesses to meet demand for sustainable seafood and creating economic opportunities for women and minorities.”
The devastation of Super Cyclone Pam and scandal around seafood slavery pushed social and environmental conditions in the region’s fishing industry to center stage this year. Fish 2.0 made a focused effort to reach the Pacific Island and Southeast Asian companies and bring them together with potential investors. In addition to the U.S. State Department, also involved were the, International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), the Packard Foundation and Humanity United (see “Fish 2.0 is Searching the Seven Seas for Seafood Entrepreneurs”).
“We strongly believe there are creative seafood entrepreneurs all over the world who could contribute to a more sustainable seafood industry globally,” says Monica Jain, Fish 2.0’s founder and executive director. “Many need connections to advisors, partners and investors in the international community to achieve their potential.”
The State Department, which backed some of Fish 2.0’s workshops, sees healthy oceans and economies as a strategic goal. One of the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals calls for countries to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources.” If fisheries resources are depleted then the primary source of income for many of fishing countries will be reduced. Lost tax revenue and corruption associated with IUU fishing further hold back some countries from reaping the benefit of their natural resources.
Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is rampant in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Driven by profit and enabled by poverty, fish pirates cost legitimate fishers an estimated $10 to $23 billion in lost value globally.
Small and medium sized fishing businesses in the Pacific Islands are challenged simply in terms of geographical isolation. “The Fish 2.0 competition is helping Pacific Islands businesses to bridge these gaps,” says Gainer, “and hopefully this will result in better integration of these companies into the global economy.”
Among the finalists and semifinalists at Fish 2.0:
Port Vila, Vanuatu
ALFA, a seafood brokerage in Vanuatu, employs more than 3,000 people, primarily women. Starting as a small family fishing business, the company has expanded to become a major buyer and wholesaler of seafood from six outer islands near Port Villa and provides the only source of revenue generation for the neighboring islands.
Crab Company of Fiji
Suva and Nadi, Fiji
Mud crabs are native to Fiji and grow naturally in mangrove forests that are one of the most endangered habitats globally. Currently, mangroves yield little economic value to village communities despite their high value as environmental anchors and as climate change mitigators. By utilizing mangroves sustainably, their product lends economic value to intact mangroves.
Fiji Crab Company is a four-year old aquaculture and wild-harvest crab company that provides high-value seafood to the local market; generates village-based jobs, primarily for women; and protects globally endangered mangrove forests by putting them into active cultivation.
Entofood develops industrial solutions for insect-based protein production for livestock and aquaculture industry. Entofood masters bioconversion of under-valorized nutrients through insects, predominantly black soldier fly larvae, to generate alternatives and highly sustainable protein sources (see, “What to Feed the Fish? Demand for Feed Attracts Innovators and Investors“).
FairAgora Asia serves seafood operators, processors, buyers, and international development agencies with a software platform, VerifiK-8 (pronounced verificate), that tracks, manages, and analyzes social and environmental data. The goal is the drive and direct sustainability improvements in the seafood industry. VerifiK-8 lowers the burden and costs of data collection and cost-effective, risk-based verification. Based in Thailand, FairAgora Asia operates throughout Asia with a focus on Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines.
Green Innovative Biotechnology
Green Innovative Biotechnology Co. Ltd. (GIB) has two patented products: a natural plant vaccine against insect pests and fungi, and a product that enhances shrimp immune systems and resistance to pathogens. Together, these can reduce disease-associated waste in the industry, reduce the use of antibiotics, and enable more sustainable aquaculture systems.
Pacific Fishing Company Ltd.
Suva and Levuka, Fiji
Pacific Fishing Company (PAFCO) is one of the largest fish processing companies in the region, processing and packing cooked tuna primarily to the U.S. market. PAFCO also packages and exports processing byproducts such as liquid, capturing added economic and environmental value. The company employs 1,000 workers, 70 percent of whom are women.
Pacific Ocean Culture
Pacific Ocean Culture is a multispecies hatchery producing giant clams, sea cucumbers, finfish, seaweed and prawns from sea ranching and aquaculture. Pacific Ocean Cultures will sell juvenile marine animals and a line of ‘plate ready' sea products for community markets, resorts, distributors and the aquarium trade. Pacific Ocean Culture aims to develop a domestic and export-driven company operationalized by community-based, sustainable ecosystems.
Sea Quest Group
Sea Quest, with a six-vessel fleet, is a 100 percent locally-owned, Fijian, longline fishing company. Sea Quest fishes MSC-certified tuna and associated species for international markets and owns and operates a busy processing/packaging plant. Ice sales, cold-storage, wholesaling and retailing are operated through an acquired company, Sealand. The company is expanding its marketing to reach buyers for sustainably caught fish and to shift to green energy for both land and sea operations.
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Photo Credit © Gregg Yan/ WWF