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Witnessing Indonesia’s Sustainability Movement Firsthand

September 4, 2018
Fisheries management is improving from the ground up and top down

I traveled to Indonesia this summer to witness remarkable sustainable fisheries achievements alongside Teresa Ish of the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) and Stuart Green of The David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

To strengthen Indonesia’s sustainability efforts, our two foundations are working together to ensure that Indonesia’s fisheries are ecologically and economically healthy, contribute to healthy ocean ecosystems and provide greater social and economic security to the 20 million people living in coastal communities.

Tuna fishers surround a boat on the Indonesian island of Buru.

During our visit, we met with a dozen local tuna fishers in Buru, an island nestled within the Maluku Islands of Indonesia. The fishers shared inspiring stories and successes attributed to their membership in Indonesia’s first Fair Trade Certified fishery. After meeting with the fishers in Buru, we attended the third Bali Tuna Conference, where industry and government officials made history by solidifying Indonesia’s road to sustainability.

Indonesia is a global fishing leader with billions of dollars’ worth of seafood exports annually that support seafood markets around the world. In 2014, Indonesia caught more tuna than any other country in the world; however, the country’s fisheries management system is in its infancy.

In addition, the country needs improved policies and updated practices to encourage sustainable fishing underpinned by good data, because fishing is vital to local communities, like Buru, where many fishers depend on tuna caught from small boats and homemade equipment to provide for their families.

Increasing international demand for sustainable and fairly traded fish provides local fishers and business owners with better access to a profitable market. In addition to obtaining the Fair Trade logo – which provides a higher price point for fishers to sell their products and provides them with direct funding to make improvements to their communities – fisheries are seeking Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.

This certification could provide greater opportunity for them to sell to niche buyers, like Whole Foods or Sainsbury’s, which have committed to purchasing MSC-certified tuna. This is attractive to fishers and the processors they sell to because these buyers are steady and committed to buying from certified supply chains, compared with the fickle buyers they are used to working with, who will source from anyone who can sell them fish and don’t always provide the same price.

These certifications are important milestones in the country’s journey to save its vulnerable fisheries and protect the industry long term. But to really make progress, it will take everyone working together – including government, industry and community leaders.

The third Bali Tuna Conference brought together the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries; the International Pole and Line Foundation; and 14 buyers, brands and retailers, including Sea Delight, Tri Marine and World Wise Foods. Once seen as adversaries, these representatives formally committed to sourcing MSC-certified tuna from Indonesia, significantly shifting their policies to be good for both oceans and bottom lines.

Indonesian companies have to commit to traceability and certification, because without certification we cannot sell [tuna] for a premium price.
Indonesian Minister Susi Pudjiastuti

During the conference, we saw Indonesian Minister Susi Pudjiastuti underscore the government’s support of these new practices and policies by unveiling the country’s harvest strategy framework for archipelagic tuna – a first for the country’s fisheries.

The framework lays out a common-sense approach to estimate tuna populations and identify a sustainable level of fishing for commercially important species of tuna, yellowfin and skipjack.

“Everyone that is living in the coastal [community] must have the benefit of their resources,” emphasized Pudjiastuti. “Indonesian companies have to commit to traceability and certification, because without certification we cannot sell [tuna] for a premium price.”

It’s clear from the progress we witnessed at the conference and in our conversations with the Buru fishers that when we improve fishery management and provide the right incentives, the results benefit everyone who relies on fish for their future. The Walton Family Foundation and the Packard Foundation are committed to championing solutions that lead to healthy oceans, sharing the road map to progress with our partners and ending overfishing for good.

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