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Naturland, a German cooperative of organic farmers, on Tuesday announced that Lake Victoria Nile perch is now certified sustainable, and products from the area will now carry the organization's eco-label.
 
Naturland representatives, along with speakers from its cooperative partners - the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Tanzanian exporter Vicfish and importer Anova - held a press conference during the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels on Tuesday.
 
The certification covers about eight landing sites in the western region of Lake Victoria and involves about 1,000 fishermen, in Bukoba, Tanzania.
 
Product from the area will be both frozen and chilled fillets. It will initially be marketed in German-speaking countries, and companies in Italy have also expressed interest, said Naturland's Stefan Bergleiter.
 
The project began in May 2006, and in July of 2007 Naturland decided on its first standards for sustainable capture fishery.
 
"Other capture fishery programs such as the [Marine Stewardship Council] were leaving a gap open by certifying very few artisinal fisheries, so [Naturland decided] it was really worth going into that niche and setting up a certification program for small scale capture fisheries," said Bergeiter.
 
Before selecting a location for Naturland's first small capture fishery certification, a round table debate was held with representatives from scientific organizations, NGOs, economists and administrators. On the basis of Naturland's sustainability standards, the group set specific standards for the local conditions for the project launch.
 
"It was difficult to identify a project suitable for certification due to the criteria. The fishery should be export oriented, small scale and then the industry must be able to meet sanitary standards," said GTZ's Peter Harchau.
 
The guidelines for sustainability set by Naturland focus on environmentally friendly use of fish stocks and the entire ecosystem, avoidance of critical and environmentally-harmful fishing methods, ecologically-sound processing without artificial additives or genetic engineering and a publicly-open, transparent approval process for all parts of the value chain.
 
In addition to sustainability standards and criteria for local conditions, Naturland's certification process requires social criteria compliance so the livelihood of the fishermen and their families as well as processing workers are safeguarded.
 
Social programs already enacted by the project include an adult education program, HIV awareness, HIV testing, health programs, lake safety, fair trading, a clean and safe drinking water program, a children's amusement program, an anti-malaria program, sustainability awareness and a fish landing sites upgrading program.
 
A calibration scale has also been put in place to ensure that fishermen are getting fair prices.
 
In addition, the partnership has formed a trust fund for the project, and 10 to 15 cents for every kilo of fish sold from the area will contribute to the fund.
 
Tanzania's Director of Fisheries, Dr. Geogrey Nanyaro, emphasized the impact of the project on the entire community, referring to the project as a "life-giver."
 
"[Nile perch] is an extremely important fish in Tanzania in the sense that it is one of the most productive lakes and employs over 4 million people," said Nanyaro. "[The certification] is important in the sense that it is the first example of well-managed fisheries in [Africa], and it is important in the sense that it is going to be a model and implemented all over the country."

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