​Improving management of the small pelagic fishery in Ecuador, demonstrating sustainability and becoming eligible to join MarinTrust’s Improver Programme (IP), all featured strongly in the reasons for a group of companies agreeing to participate in a fishery improvement project (FIP) for small pelagic resources group in 2018. In total, 16 Ecuadorean fishing and processing firms, two traders and four international feed producers signed up to take collaborative action.

Credit: PNUD Ecuador
Credit: PNUD Ecuador

The businesses involved represent around 80% of the wider small pelagic sector in Ecuador, and include feed giants BioMar (Alimentsa), Gisis S.A. (Skretting Ecuador) and Vitapro (Nicovita), along with fishing companies Negocios Industriales Real (NIRSA), Empresa Pesquera Polar, Borsea, Tadel, Exu, Dimolfin and Pesquera Herco among others.

Francisco Aldon, Marin Trust CEO, explained that it took around 2.5 years for the FIP to get up and running and for it to be accepted into the MarinTrust IP. Full MarinTrust certification, which is the ultimate goal for producers of marine ingredients, enables them to demonstrate their commitment to using responsibly sourced raw materials. Taking the first step on the ladder by committing to improving the fishery, was seen as an important tool in safeguarding market access and opening new opportunities, although it doesn’t allow any claim to be made regarding certification.

“We understand that it is not easy to bring together a diverse range of fishing and feed companies, NGOs and government departments to work collaboratively, in a culture with no such tradition. Nor is it easy to change local and national practices to improve a challenging fishery. There is a high variability in the level of bycatch in the Ecuador small pelagics fishery, which makes it difficult to regulate it. However, the will to improve fishery management was there, and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), an environmental NGO, took the responsibility of overseeing the FIP,” Aldon said.

As part of the application process to join the MarinTrust IP, an independent consultant undertook a gap analysis against the MarinTrust Standard, which informed the basis for a Fishery Action Plan to be developed. Once everything was in place, including a Peer review process by a certification body, the IP application was reviewed by the Improver Programme Application Committee. Finally, MarinTrust’s Governing Body Committee members were pleased to confirm acceptance. Aldon explained that the FIP is designed to run for a maximum of 5 years, after which it should in theory be ready to apply for full approval of the fishery and certification of the marine ingredients. In practice, it is likely that the biomass of some species will have recovered sufficiently to be approved.

Tripulante - Barco Pesquero Piquero - NIRSA S.A. CNP Ecuador
NIRSA S.A. CNP Ecuador

This was confirmed by biologist Viviana Jurado Maldonado, and fisheries researcher Manuel Peralta, from the National Fisheries Institute, who are overseeing ongoing studies into the habitat and ecosystem impacts of the small pelagic fishery, and monitoring Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species. So far more than 7 million pieces of data have been collected and analysed on the fishery and its resources. “The fisheries sector has been much more engaged with this research and given us time, resources and support to carry out our work. As a result, we have developed new and more trusting relationships with the fishermen, which is a good sign for the future. We anticipate that further projects will be put in place once our current work with the FIP is finished,” Jurado Maldonado said.

Opening up market access

A major benefit of the small pelagics FIP, is that several local fishmeal and fish oil-producing companies have achieved recognition by the MarinTrust Improver Programme and increased their competitiveness in the world market. Other are working towards it.

Overcoming differences in attitudes to sustainability and fisheries management between South America and Western nations was one challenge to overcome, but there was also a growing need to provide certified feed for the country’s growing shrimp industry, which was beginning to embrace certifications such as Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). In this respect, the work of the FIP has also been connected to that of Ecuador’s Sustainable Shrimp Partnership (SSP), set up by the country’s largest players who are committed to transforming the future of the sector. The SSP set up a feed working group, to drive innovation and highlight the technological and sustainable advancements being made in the shrimp industry.

Campaña de investigación 2020 - Barco Pesquero Atlantic I – NIRSA S.A. © PNUD Ecuador
Campaña de investigación 2020 - © PNUD Ecuador

Fabricio Vargas, Vitapro (Nicovita) general manager, shrimp feed, explained that the company’s commitment to sustainability was its main driver in wanting to play an active role in helping the industry to evolve through the Fisheries Improvement Program (FIP). “The Small Pelagic FIP demonstrates how our ethos of ‘transforming aquaculture to nurture tomorrow,’ materialises through practical actions that promote a path towards responsible management of marine resources. The programme creates shared responsibility throughout the value chain by incorporating systems that guarantee the traceability of raw materials and imposing high-impact goals. These have been key elements in its success so far,” he said. “We want our strategic allies to grow at the same pace as Ecuador’s shrimp industry and have made financial investment to deliver a long-term technical vision to help the sector evolve. We have also strengthened our relationships with the whole supply chain, based on a mutual commitment to the responsible sourcing of raw materials.”

Campaña de investigación 2020 - Barco Pesquero Atlantic I – NIRSA S.A. © PNUD Ecuador
Campaña de investigación 2020 © PNUD Ecuador

Acccording to Jimmy Anastacio, economic advisor at the country’s National Chamber of Fisheries, which represents the majority of the Ecuadorian tuna and small pelagics fleets, plus the ancillary industries producing fresh, frozen, canned fish and fishmeal, since the implementation of the FIP, researchers had noted significant improvements in the state of the fishery during stock assessments. “The voluntary management measures put in place by the FIP, such as extended fishery closures and implementation of electric logs were not popular, but they have shown impressive results so far, including reduction of overfishing and overexploitation of several species,” he said. “In short, the FIP has been transformational in empowering the industry to make improvements.”

Carlos Cacao, president of the Small Pelagic Commission of the National Fishery Chamber, explained that in March 2021, in a first for Ecuador, the government launched a new management plan for the country’s multi-species small pelagics fishery. It established objectives, goals and improved management measures agreed upon by all the FIP stakeholders and was the result of collective action with the government. Adoption of the plan was also a key step toward meeting the requirements of MarinTrust certification in the future.

Measures to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, to ensure compliance with EU market requirements, were also included. In 2019, Ecuador had been issued with a Yellow Card by the EU over its lack of oversight and failure to combat IUU. “We now have targets and goals that can be monitored to assess progress and compliance and guarantee effective management of the fishery. More resources are still needed for research and management of small pelagics, but by working collectively we can respond to the challenges of global food security,” he said.

Planta de pescado congelado - Empresa Pesquera Polar S.A. © PNUD Ecuador
Planta de pescado congelado © PNUD Ecuador

Leonardo Aguirre from fishing company and fishmeal and fish oil producer, NIRSA, highlighted that the FIP works towards improving the sustainability of the resource, regardless of its final source of consumption. “Both the production of fishmeal and products for direct human consumption benefit positively from improvements resulting from the FIP,” he said. “The project also provides training for our crew members, to strengthen sustainable fishing capacities, and they are very positive about this. Crew now participate in monitoring and data collection onboard the FIP ships, with the aim of generating data at industry level that can be used to manage the fishing and future certifications. Additionally, we make our ships available for hydroacoustic research, which determines the biomass of small pelagics and identifies areas of spawning and recruitment.”

Diego Orellana, who actively supported the FIP as part of the Global Marine Commodities at the United Nations Development Programme, praised the commitment of all the companies and organisations involved. “It has been exciting to see how changes in resource management, backed up by research, have resulted in a subtle shift towards a culture of responsible fishing amongst the stakeholder group and this feeds down into global market access,” he said.

As the FIP enters its final stages, Renato Gozzer, Latin America Fisheries director for Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), confirmed that despite the completion of the Global Marine Commodities project in 2021, the NGO has maintained its support for the FIP. “We consider this FIP as a role model for industrial fisheries in the region, where the catch and processing sectors took the lead and fostered effective collaboration with government institutions and the entire supply chain,” Gozzer said.

Watch the World Bank's video here.