Tuna is the second most popular seafood in the United States, yet for most Americans, it’s a non-descript protein puck that inevitably gets mixed with mayonnaise and celery. Maybe the tuna in that can came from the Philippines, or Micronesia? Perhaps it was caught by a Japanese vessel and transferred to a processing plant in Thailand before making its way to your local supermarket. Maybe it was hooked on a longline or scooped up in a purse seine? Who knows?
In March, there will be a new type of tuna available that comes with a much different pedigree. That’s because Safeway and Fair Trade USA just announced a partnership to bring the first-ever Fair Trade Certified™ wild fish to the North American market. You may know Fair Trade from their work in coffee or chocolate, and with yesterday’s announcement, handline-caught yellowfin from the Maluku Island chain of Indonesia is now part of their ever-expanding product portfolio.
If you’re a fish nerd like me, this is exciting for several reasons:
- This is the first wild fish certification program to include both environmental and social benchmarks. That ensures that fishermen operate under internationally-recognized fair working conditions, and that they must meet independently audited standards of environmental compliance.
- The Fair Trade program operates on a model of continuous improvement, which means that the fishery is required to become more sustainable over time in order to maintain their certification and market access.
- Fisheries that apply for Fair Trade certification must collect a variety of information regarding their catch, and use those data to inform science-based management decisions. In a region where stock assessments and management plans are hard to come by, this is a welcome development.
- And perhaps most importantly, soon these small-scale fishermen will start receiving an additional Fair Trade Premium – 10% of the dockside price – for their catch. This can then be used for community development projects, improving fishermen safety, and ultimately – making their fishery more sustainable.
Although this first release is limited to Safeway stores in their Northern California division, the excitement around Fair Trade fish is already creating momentum for nearby tuna-fishing communities to enter the program. Eventually, new Indonesian fisheries will apply for certification – and with a little luck – a new Fair Trade hub will form in Latin America, too.
So while this first certification only applies to a small tuna fishery in an isolated part of Indonesia, soon it will lead to more small scale fishermen fishing sustainably and more coastal communities earning more for their catch. It’s a first step that I’m very excited to take.
* In the interest of full disclosure I am a member of Fair Trade USA’s Fishery Advisory Council, which helped develop the Fair Trade fisheries program and corresponding standards. I receive no payment from Fair Trade USA or Safeway to serve in this role, and the views expressed above are my own.