Fishery Improvement Projects or FIPs are a relatively new approach to generate and provide market access incentives for improvements in fisheries. This tool can allow industry stakeholders to work collaboratively to improve a fishery and FIPs are increasingly being recognized by international buyers as an interim step to certification.
In 2013, the ASEAN Public-Private Taskforce for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture identified the expansion of FIPs in the region as a priority issue to improve the sustainability and inclusiveness of fisheries in the region. The ASEAN Public-Private Taskforce for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture agreed to an initiative to define a regional FIP protocol, which can serve as an interim solution to bridge the gap between current and ideal fishing practices, and provide a pathway for improvements in fisheries practices and management across the Asian region. This protocol, developed by Asian based fishers, government, and NGO representatives reflects the realities facing fisheries in the region, and includes key elements of the international or best-in-class standards and certification systems, such as improving the conservation of aquatic resources, mitigating adverse environmental impacts, and improving the social responsibility and stewardship of fisheries.
Building a fisheries improvement program that couples Asian realities with the most important sustainability and social responsibility requirements provides fisheries firsthand experience with the benefits of the improvements, and ideally lead to a greater willingness by fishers and other supply chain actors to make the investments required to ensure the long-term social, environmental and economic sustainability of fisheries in the region. It is critical that the benchmarks set are achievable by a sufficient number of fisheries in the Asian region, including at the small-scale, and offer manageable targets to serve as a catalyst in encouraging compliance with set requirements.
For the purposes of this document, a fishery is defined as everything from a single species and single gear type to a multi-species and multi-gear type that may or may not have target species.
A Steering Committee is responsible for all decisions associated with the protocol, including the content of the benchmarks, the process and scope for development, and the verification scheme. An initial governance structure and administrative procedures for the committee was agreed to in April 2014. Decisions are made by consensus defined by as at least a 75% voting majority from all members of the Steering Committee.
The protocol was developed and is continually being refined through a multi-stakeholder, transparent and inclusive consultative process across the region. The process aims to align with the ISEAL Alliance’s globally recognized guidelines for setting environment and social standards. The ASIC fish improvement program defines environmental and social benchmarks for fisheries to improve along with required improvement steps. A verification framework tracks the progress of the improvements against the benchmarks over time and specifies the required steps.
Verification is a critical piece of the ASIC fish improvement program to ensure its credibility with buyers and other industry partners. The verification system is continually being refined under the oversight of the Steering Committee.
The verification system monitors the performance of fisheries against the benchmarks and tracks improvements over time. Fisheries participating in an ASIC fish improvement program are assessed against the benchmarks on at least an annual basis if not more frequently so that their progress (positive or negative) is recorded. Participating fisheries need to demonstrate a minimum level of improvement to stay compliant with the scheme.
Fisheries interested in using the ASIC fish improvement program will be required to undergo a “Compliance Check” against the benchmarks to determine their compliance level. At that point, an improvement plan will be developed that will include timelines and improvement targets and the next date for the “Compliance Check”. A “Compliance Check” could be conducted by certification bodies or by independent consultants or organizations who are forming partnerships with the fishery under assessment.
It is the intention of the Steering Committee that fisheries participating and deemed compliant with this scheme can claim that they are “improving”. No claims of sustainability or responsibility will be permitted under the verification scheme.
Environmental and Social Performance Benchmarks
The benchmarks measure and track progress of improvement by fisheries on environmental and social issues, structured to include interim goals, multiple steps for improvement under each goal, and indicators of compliance. To the extent possible, the benchmarks (and their associated improvement steps) are aligned with existing international and national sustainable fisheries and labor standards. The environmental benchmarks have been designed to offer clear links to existing standards where the current performance is below recognized minimum thresholds.
The goal of defining the improvement steps is to:
- Foster understanding of the immediate and long term steps that a fisher or fishery must take to produce more sustainably; and
- Allow buyers, investors, philanthropists, or other interested stakeholders to assess the current status, past history, and future plans of operation for a given fishery that they may want to partner with or support.