This year, Fair Trade CertifiedTM Atlantic sea scallops will become available for the first time. Fair Trade certification may be familiar when thinking of products such as coffee, tea, or bananas but is relatively new to the seafood industry. The certification of seafood products began in 2014 with yellowfin tuna from Indonesia and has expanded to scallops this year.
The Fair Trade Certified seal means an independent agency has assessed the supply chain to ensure fishermen and primary processing workers experience fair working conditions and high environmental standards are met throughout production. Fair Trade USA is the first to offer fair trade seafood from U.S. waters.
North Atlantic sea scallops are dredge harvested and then typically sold by fishermen to seafood processors, often via the auction in New Bedford. There are approximately 50 scallop fishermen on 11 different vessels participating in the Fair Trade certification program. These fishermen, based in New England, sell to processors Bristol Seafood in Portland, ME and Northern Wind, Inc. in New Bedford, MA. Both Bristol Seafood and Northern Wind are the current certificate holders, which means in addition to their processing facilities being included in the third-party audit, they are financially responsible for managing the scallop certification. Since the fishermen participating in the program are independent, and not part of a cooperative, having the processor as a centralization point helps streamline the certification process.
“We are very proud to be the first to introduce Fair Trade Certified seafood harvested in the United States,” said Peter Handy, President and CEO of Bristol Seafood. “All of our products are based on integrity and sustainable practices, and Fair Trade certification gives our customers third-party validation that we operate in a socially responsible manner as well.”
Fishermen and processing facilities that become Fair Trade Certified must meet strict criteria that address fundamental human rights, fair wages, safe working conditions, and access to services such as health insurance and maternity leave, as well as criteria for resource management and product traceability. Certified fishermen then sell their catch to the processors, who pay a premium to the fishermen (in this case $0.15/pound). The premium goes into a fund managed by the Fair Trade Committee, a group of elected fishermen from the certified group. The premiums are invested back into the community, with at least 30% being spent on environmental conservation projects. Initial discussions among fishermen about the premium have centered on supporting the Fisheries Survival Fund and research partners at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's School for Marine Science & Technology and Coonamessett Farm.
“We are thrilled to support local fishing communities through Fair Trade, and look forward to continuing to work with Bristol Seafood, Northern Wind, and the fishermen participating in our program for years to come,” said Ashley Apel, Senior Manager of the Seafood Program at Fair Trade USA.
Fair Trade standards ensure safe working conditions for fishermen, provide greater access to capital through community development premiums, and enhance environmental protections. Although Fair Trade is new to seafood, the overall awareness of the Fair Trade Certified label is at 67% and increasing, which could translate to a large potential for this certification to grow within the seafood industry.