A recent study, published by Naunet Fisheries Consultants, analysed the impact of improving government transparency in fisheries according to the FiTI Standard on eco-certification efforts, and whether existing certification efforts incentivise national authorities to improve transparency of fisheries management.
In the late 1990s, voluntary third-party certifications of fish and seafood products (ecolabels) were developed as a market-based incentive to promote sustainable capture fisheries, responding to concerns about inadequate fishery management practices, unsustainable depletion of stocks and ecological degradation. In simple terms, certification programmes assess if a fishery meets certain sustainability requirements. Compliance with these requirements by the assessed fishery is communicated to consumers through an ecolabel on the product.
At the same time, it is now commonly agreed that public availability of credible information is paramount to achieving sustainable management of fisheries. Without reliable information the capacity of national authorities to make decisions based on the best available data is diminished. So is the ability of non-governmental stakeholders to exercise effective oversight, demand accountability and engage in public dialogue. Yet, many governments of coastal states many still not disclosing even basic management information on their fisheries sector, such as permits, fishing agreements, stock assessments, financial contributions, catch data and subsidies. Also, the limited data that is publicly available is too often incomplete, outdated, unverified or not readily accessible.
The report explores the linkages between two major fisheries certification standards, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Friend of the Sea (FoS), with the FiTI Standard. In addition to a desk-based research the report draws on inputs from relevant certification stakeholders, such as Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs), MSC experts and participants of Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs).
The analysis shows that countries implementing the FiTI Standard could benefit from improving evaluations on specific performance indicators of:
- the MSC Fisheries Standard (V2.01/V.3), particularly those associated with Principles 1 (Stock status) and Principle 3 (Management system) for the MSC Fisheries Standard (V2.01/V.3), and
- at least four requirements of the FoS Wild Standard (v.4), i.e. stock status, legal conformity, fishery management, and social accountability.
Seeking to further integrate the FiTI’s transparency requirements into certification processes and FIPs was recommended, so that stakeholders can have access to more comprehensive and reliable information on fisheries management. This is quite timely due to the inclusion of the Evidence Requirements Framework (ERF) of the MSC Fisheries Standard 3.0. This new framework was developed to assess the accuracy and quality of information for various performance indicators. Initiatives like the FiTI could therefore clearly strengthen the certification process by supporting national authorities and other related stakeholders in ensuring the timely provision of accurate, comprehensive, and accessible data.
Furthermore, evidence gathered in the case study of the Seychelles – a leading FiTI implementing country and currently undergoing MSC certification efforts – showed an increasing utilisation of annual FiTI Reports, particularly in the scoring of MSC Principle 3 (P3), specifically Sub-Indicators (SI) 3.1.2 and 3.2.3. As part of these certification efforts, FiTI Reports have been frequently cited to support the scoring rationale, demonstrating a direct influence on the scoring process.
In addition, the outcomes of the stakeholder consultations showed that:
- 94% of the interviewed/surveyed stakeholders viewed a more transparent fishing management body as beneficial for eco-certification initiatives.
- 70% of the interviewed/surveyed stakeholders indicated that they consider the level of transparency of the management body when calculating the cost of the fisheries assessment process.
- 100% of the interviewed/surveyed stakeholders agreed that the lack of data would increase the budget for a Fisheries Improvement Project.
- Knowledge about the FiTI Standard among relevant certification stakeholders, such as Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs), MSC experts and FIP participants, is still limited.
In summary, the report underscores the crucial interplay between transparency, effective fisheries governance, and ecolabels. It also emphasizes how collaborative efforts between governments and the fisheries sector enhance their management practices and transparency, not only to foster environmental sustainability but also to unlock promising market prospects through eco-certifications.
The report was commissioned by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM), financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The FiTI International Secretariat contributed to the report under its ‘beneFiTIng’ programme.