Sida’s B4D program is about partnering with the private sector in order to improve the quality of life for people living in poverty. The private sector plays a crucial role in development by generating economic growth, jobs and incomes, as well as sustainable solutions.
One of the first private companies to contact Sida’s Business for Development Program (B4D) was Abba Seafood. An initial telephone contact resulted in a grant to improve the management of the fishery for tonggol (longtail) tuna in Thailand. The project, which is implemented together with Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) brings together stakeholders to collect information on the status of the fish stocks and to find ways to ensure a long term sustainable fishery.
An estimated 10 million people in South Asia depend on fisheries. At the same time some parts of the industry face challenges such as very poor workers’ conditions, especially for migrant workers, as well as unsustainable fishing practices.
For 30 years the Sweden based company, Abba Seafood, has imported tonggol tuna from Thailand, but the information they received from their suppliers was not enough to guarantee that the fishery of tonggol was sustainable. After becoming aware of the problem, through their internal audit system, Abba Seafood established a fishery improvement partnership with stakeholders in Thailand and contacted Sida’s B4D program with a proposition: ”We have an idea for a project on sustainable fishery. Are you interested?”
The goal of the tonggol tuna project is to determine and implement measures that lead to a sustainable fishery, which is important in assuring not only the fish stocks, but also the continued livelihood of the people dependent on fishery.
In June 2011 Sida decided to co-fund a sustainable tonggol fishery project in the form of a 12 month grant. This grant helped fund stakeholder group meetings and the preparation of a draft improvement plan and will also result in a brief study of interactions between large and small scale fishers.
”We believe it is better to get the industry in Thailand on board rather than standing far away telling them to do this or we will leave. If the project succeed on a management plan for tonggol, then the same methodology may be used in order to ensure sustainable fisheries of other fish species in South-East Asia”, says Maria Åberg, who works with product development at Abba Seafood as an expert on food legislation and declaration.
As a routine, Abba Seafood evaluates the status of each and every fish stock they source from. They do this by evaluating the fishery methods used; the status of the stocks and how the fishery is managed. When the internal sustainability evaluation was done for the tonggol tuna, it turned up red in the Abba Seafood system.
”The reason it turned up red was because there was a lack of information. There were no management plans for the tonggol fishery and very little was known about the tonggol stocks. The only thing we knew was that the catches had been growing over 30 years and that there was an increase in demand”, says Maria Åberg.
”There are lots of reasons for us to engage in a sustainable fishery. On the top there is a wish to act responsible; we do this because it is morally right. Also, if there is no fish in the future there is no Abba,” says Maria Åberg.
Very little is known about the tonggol, a small tuna fish species that swim around the shores of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, and in minor stocks around India, China and Australia. Abba Seafood has bought tonggol from the Thai tuna canner for over 30 years and very good relationships have developed with the suppliers in Thailand.
If Abba Seafood didn’t engage at all with their partners in Thailand there was a risk that the company eventually would have to stop importing tonggol. But by leaving entirely they would not be able to change anything and a private company can be a force for positive change.
Abba Seafood had also been in contact with Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), a non-governmental organization (NGO), who provides strategic and technical guidance to seafood suppliers and producers on sustainable procurement and fisheries improvement.
”Our priority is to understand the stocks. Is it one tonggol stock or several stocks? To get information we must find ways to cooperate with all the stakeholders in Thailand and also to find ways to include Malaysia and Indonesia,” says Duncan Leadbitter, technical director at Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP). He has worked on fisheries issues in South-East Asia for 12 years.
”The main issue for us is the poor level of knowledge and the inadequate management system. We know that the catches are increasing over time. So we need to perform an evaluation of the ecosystem and the management of the stocks”, says Duncan Leadbitter.
At the stakeholder meetings in 2011, there was a broad representation, with members from Abba Seafood, the canneries, the fish buyers (middlemen), the fishermen representatives, the Department of Fisheries and the SFP.
”We have pushed the stakeholders hard. The main challenge is to get access to information, something that is quite sensitive for their business,” says Duncan Leadbitter.
The tonggol partnership with Sida has given Abba Seafood the courage to engage with the stakeholders in Thailand. ”Writing emails to all our suppliers was scary because the information is sensitive and secret. But with Sida behind us they could understand that our only objective is to ensure a sustainable tonggol fishery,” says Maria Åberg.