Fishery improvements projects are used around the world as models to engage the supply chain in improving fisheries on the ground. Today, nearly 90% of major retailers and buyers in North America have sustainable seafood policies in place, which they use to determine what kind of seafood to purchase. Over time, large buyers have realized that avoiding a fishery because it does not meet their standards does not, in the end, motivate those fisheries to improve. The “avoided” fisheries typically seek markets elsewhere, rather than working to improve and meet a large buyer’s standards.
The fishery improvement project model takes the opposite approach.
When a fishery does not meet typical standards of major buyers or global seafood certification programs, a FIP can be an appropriate tool. FIPs commonly engage a range of stakeholders, including fishermen, seafood suppliers, retailers, foodservice companies, as well as scientists and regulators. The goal is to support the supply chain directly in identifying and advocating for needed improvements. Industry members sit at the table together as formal members of a FIP working group and determine what actions will best help a fishery meet particular standards or buyer policies. Often, the improvements are focused on improving fisheries regulations and/or fisheries science. Every FIP has its own specific goals, which must be made public to ensure credibility in the marketplace.
FisheryProgress.org is a widely-respected, publicly available tracking website for FIPs. As the seafood marketplace increasingly demands sustainable products, FIPs are becoming an increasingly popular tool to improve the sustainability of a fishery.
Wild Maine mussels
GMRI staff help coordinate and facilitate FIPs in the Gulf of Maine region. Currently, GMRI is facilitating a FIP for wild blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) in Maine. Blue mussels from Maine are both an important part of the ecosystem and an iconic seafood dish. Mussels are the fifth largest fishery in Maine by volume, and recorded landings of 11 million pounds in 2019. Despite this, regulators and buyers struggle to make decisions about blue mussels due to a lack of data about mussel populations. This puts wild mussels at risk of losing market access because the fishery does not meet standard sustainability criteria. To address this risk, a group of wild mussel industry members formed a FIP in 2017.
Maine mussel FIP working group members
- Acadia Aqua Farms
- Cape Cod Shellfish and Seafood Co.
- Hannaford Supermarkets
- J.P.’s Shellfish
- Maine Shellfish Company
- Moosabec Mussels
- Euclid Fish Company
Goals of the wild Maine mussel FIP
- Establish and maintain data collection about wild blue mussels in Maine.
- Advocate for the establishment of harvest control rules that protect the long-term sustainability of the mussel fishery and those whose livelihoods depend on it.
- Establish the objectives and components for a statewide mussel fishery management plan with appropriate governance and community engagement to ensure long-term sustainability of the mussel fishery and access for local harvesters.
For more details on the wild Maine mussel FIP, explore the FIP’s public profile here.
Research in the field
The mussel FIP working group has been particularly focused on advancing research and data collection, which are a critical foundation for good management strategies. Working group companies have shared data they collect on harvest locations of mussels for analysis by GMRI staff. Additionally, we have conducted research in the field on mussels by taking samples and conducting targeted surveys in the intertidal flats located within key commercial mussel fishing areas.
Jonah Crab (2013-2016)
Jonah crab has long been considered a bycatch of the lobster industry. In 2013, there was increasing market demand for Jonah crab, especially in southern New England, and concerns arose that targeted fishing pressure could compromise the health of the fishery. Before implementing the FIP, no management plan or stock assessment existed for Jonah crab. The Jonah crab FIP working group comprised a broad range of seafood supply chain members and scientists. The FIP successfully secured a fishery management plan for Jonah crab that includes minimum size restrictions, prohibition of berried female harvest, and licensing and trap restrictions. See below for a timeline of key milestones for the Jonah crab FIP.
Jonah crab FIP timeline
Jonah crab FIP established.
- Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) unanimously votes to establish a fishery management plan and stock assessment for Jonah crab based on recommendations from the FIP work group.
- FIP working group members participated in ASMFC public hearings in ME, MA, RI, and CT to share FIP recommendations.
- ASMFC voted to establish an Advisory Panel and Technical Committee to develop recommendations to the ASMFC.
- ASMFC approved a Jonah crab fishery management plan.
- Deadline for all east coast states to implement measures spelled out in the management plan.
Jonah crab FIP working group members
Chair: Ray Swenton, Bristol Seafood
David Borden, Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association
Josanna Busby, Delhaize America
Lanny Dellinger, Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association
Bill Gerencer, M.F. Foley Company
Bryan Holden, Cape Seafood LLC
Derek Perry, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
David Spencer, F/V Nathaniel Lee
Steve Train, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
Rick Wahle, University of Maine
Jon Williams, The Atlantic Red Crab Company
Explore the recommendations sent to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) by downloading the PDF below.
Jonah Crab Fishery: A Briefing for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
This communication to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) includes recommendations the FIP Work Group has developed for the management agency's consideration, for presentation to the ASMFC on May 14, 2014.
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