The sustainable seafood movement gains momentum in the Philippines

  • Published: 14 March 2018
  • Author: Julia Whitney

This year’s Sustainable Seafood Week, which took place from 26 February to 18 March 2018 in Manila, was a celebration of responsible and sustainable seafood. Growing in popularity amongst top hotels, the annual event serves as a platform for key industry stakeholders to share best practices in sustainable fisheries and procurement.

The event is coordinated by Meliomar Inc. (a seafood distributor in Manila focusing on premium and sustainable seafood) in close partnership with luxury hotels, the Philippine government, NGOs, culinary institutions and other supporting organisations, including CSR Asia. Events during the celebration range from culinary competitions to showcasing premium catch, to workshops on smallholders and inclusive business hosted by CSR Asia.

Demand for sustainable seafood is only just emerging in the Philippines as international hotel groups develop sustainability policies and commitments that will need to be implemented across their global operations.

As there are currently no Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) (the two largest seafood certification standards) certified products from fisheries or farms in the Philippines, it is extremely important that these hotels work with their suppliers to reach their targets. For example, Hyatt Hotels has a target to source 50% of global seafood volume from responsible sources, with at least 15% from MSC or ASC-certified fisheries or farms. To reach this goal, a set of second-tier criteria is utilised, such as sourcing from fisheries and farms that satisfy sustainability criteria but may not have the MSC or ASC certification. This is where working with suppliers is essential: if certified sources are not yet locally available, solutions must be created.

Third-party certified seafood is one option, but it may not be the most inclusive

Even though certification is often applauded for ensuring a more responsible catch, the benefits may not trickle down to the millions of smallholder fisherfolk and farmers in the Philippines. The cost of a full fishery certification can range from about US$ 10,000 for a small, simple fishery to more than US$ 100,000 for a large, complex fishery1 – a price that is unattainable for fisherfolk in the country, who represent the one of the poorest sectors of the Philippines.2 In a country where the ratio of small-scale to commercial fishers is 1,614,000 to 16,5003; it is important that these fishers are not left behind by exclusive and pricey certification.

Back at the Sustainable Seafood Week, event partner RARE, shared how they are working to ensure that these 1.6 million people are not left behind. As fresh fish is often sold directly to processors or distributors, it is difficult to increase the price of seafood. To overcome this barrier, RARE has helped to increase the price of catch in two key ways:

  • Value added training: Training on value added services such as fish drying, marinating or packaging allows for other members of the community to get involved in the seafood industry, adding value to the products, fetching a higher market price.
  • Guaranteed fair market prices: The enterprise started paying fisherfolk a higher price for catch that follows sustainability principles – showing that there is an incentive to adopt responsible fishing practices.

Their grassroots social enterprise works directly with the fishing communities to establish moratoriums and changing behaviour of local fishers to adopt sustainable catch methods. Their education campaigns teach fisherfolk that there is value in a sustainable product. Through their training on proper catch size (to avoid catching juvenile fish), reporting catch to government or regional fisheries management organisations, emphasising that fish are to be caught in the right season and from proper fisheries, RARE is promoting an overall more sustainable local fishing industry.

Sustainable catch, improved stock health and a local product that benefits communities are vital building blocks for an inclusive business: an entity that generates high development impact by (i) improving access to goods and services for the base-of-the-pyramid population (i.e. low-income people); and/or (ii) providing income and/or employment opportunities to low-income people as producers, suppliers, distributors, employers, and/or employees.4 RARE presents a wonderful example of bottom-up inclusive business. However, for the top hotels and retailers in the Philippines and beyond, the question is: as the last stage in the value chain, what can these companies do to promote inclusive business within their seafood supply chain?

As part of our professional services, CSR Asia supports the private sector in adopting inclusive business models. In this case, there are three ways to support sustainable seafood using an inclusive business model:

  1. Training: Delivering training that can help to increase the quality, value and price of the catch such as sustainability catch methods or value-added services.
  2. Paying fair prices for sustainable seafood
  3. Establishing communal buying platforms: Smallholders are fragmented, and often it is difficult to access their products. Building a central buying location where fish can be bought and sold can facilitate market access.

Stay tuned for CSR Asia upcoming report for retailers and hotels, to be published later this month, which will detail the risks and the business case for promoting sustainable seafood using an inclusive business model which supports women’s economic empowerment.

For more information on smallholder inclusion, please see the following publications:
Agribusiness in ASEAN: Making the Case for Smallholder Inclusion
Agribusiness and the SDGs

Recommended reading:

4. Inclusive Business – Asian Development Bank