Is it time for certification and branding of sustainably-grown products from Pacific coastal fisheries?

07 August 2014 | News story

Certifying and branding sustainably-grown commercial products, such as bêche-de-mer, is one of the many ideas put forward to help the coastal fisheries of the Pacific Islands be sustainably managed into the future.

Regional collaboration and innovative solutions were the focus of discussion on the second day of the Pacific Bêche-de-mer and the Future of Coastal Fisheries Meeting in Nadi, Fiji. Rather than dwelling on the threats that overfishing, population growth, urbanization, habitat degradation and climate change pose to food security and biodiversity, the meeting sought ideas on how the region can work together to help coastal fisheries become sustainable.

The tone for the day was set early by the meeting’s keynote speakers. Papua New Guinea’s Minister for Fisheries and Marine Resources, Hon. Mao Zeming, spoke about the importance of the meeting in helping shift to sustainable coastal fisheries.

“The number of people dependent on fish [in PNG] is 2 million. This forum is timely for the region, and it strengthens PNG’s aspirations in coastal fisheries development and management. I firmly believe that we all should be aware of the status and socio-economic benefits of bêche-de-mer and coastal fisheries. We must have effective regional approaches, and further commit political will and budget, so that we can address the threats and challenges“ said Minister Zeming.

These sentiments were echoed by the Marshall Island’s Minister of Transportation and Communications, Hon. Thomas Heine, who was representing the Minister of Resources and Development at the meeting. He also spoke about the need to build on the region’s traditional knowledge to find innovative solutions.

“We, in the Pacific, understand our resources. We know when and where to go to get what we need, because this is part of our traditional knowledge and cultural heritage. The key is to integrate this knowledge, [and provide] our resource owners, traditional users and local communities with capacity development and capital support” said Minister Heine.

One potential solution generated during discussions was for the implementation of a regional certification or branding scheme for products such as bêche-de-mer that have been grown sustainably. Pressure would then be placed on the consumption end of the market, to encourage them to only purchase bêche-de-mer that is certified/branded as being sustainably-grown. Similar approaches have been used in other industries such as forestry.

“Bêche-de-mer provides an incentive for better coastal fisheries management. In some cases, it may be a catalyst for action” said IUCN’s Ruci Botei.

Some of the other ideas raised include:

  • Creating a region-wide database of bêche-de-mer companies (including parent companies), and blacklisting companies that encourage unsustainable harvesting rates. Conversely, companies could also be ‘white’-listed if they support sustainable management of the resources.
  • Sharing information on pricing across the region, to ensure that countries and communities are receiving their rightful economic return for their resources.
  • Value-adding to coastal fishery products prior to export, for example ‘fish jerky’.
  • Conducting regional training courses on specific aspects of the market to ensure countries have the expertise to manage the value chain.
  • Coordinating fishing seasons and moratoria across the region, so that any trade outside of the fishing season would be illegal, without the need to identify its origin.
  • Developing a quality assurance program to ensure the best price for the product.

Discussions will continue tomorrow, with the participants striving to identify an effective regional approach to sustainably manage the coastal fisheries and bêche-de-mer resources of the Pacific Islands.