FisheryProgress.org shifts focus from gathering information to driving impact on the water

Published on
March 18, 2022
FisheryProgress.org's new promotional campaign for its guide for seafood buyers.

Building on its efforts to support the seafood industry by providing a comprehensive fishery improvement project (FIP) reporting website, FisheryProgress.org is now aiming to increase the impact of FIPs by aligning buyers with high-performing FIPs.

Launched in 2016 by FishChoice, FisheryProgress.org originally had the goal of making it easier for seafood buyers and NGO advisors to track FIP progress by providing consistent, comparable information on FIP implementation. Before FisheryProgress.org, FIP reporting had no central aggregating site, and what reporting was done included information that was not consistent or verified as compliant with the Conservation Alliance Guidelines for Supporting Fishery Improvement Projects.

The FisheryProgress.org website has been successful in gathering FIPs’ data in one place, with more than 90 percent of global FIPs reporting on the website and close to 4,000 seafood buyers, NGOs, funders, and government representatives relying on the information provided. In 2020, CEA Consulting’s Global Landscape Review of FIPs confirmed the success of the effort, finding FisheryProgess.org had increased the consistency and availability of FIP environmental progress data.

“With 96 percent of global FIPs reporting on FisheryProgress.org, and with thousands of buyers using the site as a resource for sourcing decisions, the next big question for us was how we can collectively support FIPs to make more progress,” FishChoice Program Director Kristin Sherwood said.

While FisheryProgress.org succeeded in delivering more-valuable, consistent information to the industry, the CEA report found that seafood buyers utilizing FisheryProgress.org were not differentiating high-performing FIPs from less-impactful FIPs – and therefore it was not driving the marketplace toward the top performers.

“Delivering environmental and social improvements is often a challenging, long road for FIPs. To make it easier, seafood buyers need to play a stronger role in incentivizing FIP progress, by sharing their performance expectations, contributing financially, and engaging directly with FIPs to support their work,” Sherwood said.

FisheryProgress.org is now working to move the marketplace toward projects that deliver the best return for industry’s investment, Sherwood said. To do this, it plans to connect FIPs to training opportunities through organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the FIP Community of Practice, and Worldwide Fund for Wildlife, along with new funding opportunities. The aim is also to meaningfully engage seafood buyers with FIPs to use buying power as rewards to encourage FIP progress.

“The FIP Community of Practice connects the global community of FIPs to learn from each other and take action to increase FIP impact,” said Jesse Marsh, the principal of Scaling Blue and the global coordinator for the FIP Community of Practice. “The community has more than 300 members from more than 20 countries that are actively engaged in FIPs, including NGOs, seafood businesses, government officials, and fishing associations.”

The process of an FIP is long and complicated, and coordinating effort across regional workshops, webinars, communication platforms, and more can help them achieve goals through greater funding and research, Marsh said. Getting buyers engaged can help accelerate progress by increasing funding for the many activities it takes to work through an FIP.

“Achieving environmental and social progress in a fishery isn’t easy. It starts with conducting a thorough assessment of the environmental and social issues that are present. Then the FIP must create and implement a work plan, which usually includes activities to change fishing or labor practices and how the government manages the fishery,” Marsh said.

Part of FisheryProgress.org’s new initiative includes improving language translation on the site, so that FIPs can communicate progress in French, Spanish, Japanese, and Bahasa Indonesia, in addition to English. The site will also have new features highlighting the results FIPs are achieving, and showcase trends in progress across the site.

“We hope this information empowers the entire sustainable seafood community to support FIPs to accelerate their progress over time,” Sherwood said.  

Accompanying this new approach to its work, FisheryProgress.org has developed a new guide for seafood buyers on how to help use their buying power to push for progress. The guide provides three major recommendations to communicate expectations to suppliers and how to engage directly with FIPS to encourage the progress. It also provides examples and templates to how a company can integrate these improvements.

A company can begin by publicly committing to only sourcing from FIPs that are making demonstrable environmental and social progress. Integrating this into a corporate sustainability commitment, supplier expectation letters, public statements, or on independent platforms such as FisheryProgress.org, are starting points to get this change out there.

Demonstration of progress may look different between FIPs, but sourcing from high-performing FIPs means it is either transitioning from basic to comprehensive, maintaining an A or B progress rating, or reporting evidence of environmental improvements. Social progress could mean compliance with social policies, conducting risk assessments and developing a work plan to address high or moderate risk, or reporting improvements to social indicator scores.

The review's second major recommendation was to communicate company expectations with suppliers. For example, companies can share with their suppliers that human rights and social responsibility should be as much of a priority as environmental improvements. They can ask suppliers to become active FIP participants. Companies can also encourage FIPs to regularly and accurately report on FisheryProgress.org to show progress over time. FIPs that are inactive should be encouraged to reactivate immediately, with the threat that they may face rejection from buyers if they don't regularly report progress.

The review's final recommendation is for companies to meaningfully engage with FIPs by financially supporting improvement activities and following the FIP on FisheryProgress.org to engage with the FIP directly. Companies can aid FIPs by funding performance assessments, such as three-year environmental audits or annual social risk assessments. The companies can then follow-up by funding implementation of action plans to address challenges.

Following a FIP on the FisheryProgress.org platform will allow a company to receive a monthly digest to summarize progress and changes in the FIPs followed. An annual update allows a deeper look to help better understand if the FIP is progressing in a way that meets the company’s need and expectations or if engagement is needed to identify opportunities to support the FIP for faster improvements.

“Ultimately we want FIPs making progress to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work,” Sherwood said.

Mark Eastham, the sustainable products lead for Ahold Delhaize USA, a Dutch multinational company that includes local supermarket brands such as Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Food Lion, and Giant Food, said he is dependent on the FisheryProgress.org site to learn about the fisheries he sources from. Eastham said he is looking forward to the changes and improvements to the website.

“As retailers passionate about sustainable seafood sourcing, our companies welcome the opportunity to partner with others in the industry and the rest of the sustainable seafood community to make a lasting impact,” Eastham said. “FisheryProgress.org has been an important tool in helping our companies learn more about FIPs and engage with them in a meaningful way. We welcome FisheryProgress.org’ new focus on FIP impact and look forward to leveraging the new resources as we continue to advance our seafood sustainability efforts.”    

Photo courtesy of FisheryProgress.org

Contributing editor/Reporting from Hawaii, U.S.A.

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