The Journey to Responsible Sourcing
with FIA PNG’s Marcelo Hidalgo
Marcelo Hidalgo is CSR and Sustainability Director with the Fishing Industry Association of Papua New Guinea. He is also the founder of Seafoodmatter, and co-founder of Onboard Social Accountability International. During 25-plus years in aquaculture and fisheries supply chains, Marcelo has advised large retail companies, tuna fleets, seafood processing suppliers, NGOs, and government on the application and improvement of responsible sourcing and sustainable matters – creating a change that drives the global seafood supply value chain.
Marcelo was hired as a Benchmarking expert for GSSI in September 2017 and has been on the GSSI Steering Board since 2021.
The Fishing Industry Association of Papua New Guinea (FIA PNG) joined the GSSI Global Partnership in February 2021, to improve and increase its commitment to the conservation of the ocean as well as to protect the people working in the fishery through a holistic approach. FIA PNG believes the partnership with GSSI provides the opportunity to collaborate with global stakeholders to ensure sustainability, transparency, and traceability in seafood supply chains.
FIA PNG has been actively involved and supportive of the development of GSSI’s Seafood MAP with Marcelo sitting on the Seafood MAP Taskforce.
Marcelo, FIA PNG provides a united voice for the fishing and associated industries in Papua New Guinea. How do you provide this voice and how does being part of GSSI support this aim?
PNG’s fishing industry is undergoing rapid change, particularly in the onshore processing sector which is expected to see significant investment in the coming decade. FIA PNG can lay claim to a number of tangible successes during the course of its history. These include playing a key role in the establishment of the National Fisheries Authority (NFA) – including successfully arguing for seats on the board, successfully lobbying for reforms to tax arrangements for fishing gear, effectively integrating into the working processes of government (FIA sits on a range of key decision making/advisory committees), and advancing the interests of domestic operators through domestication policies.
The four key aspects where FIA PNG provides a united voice for the fishing industry are:
- Capitalizing on the opportunity afforded by NFA board membership
- Increasing exposure outside PNG
- Promoting good governance
- Strengthening communication mechanisms and outreach globally
GSSI is a global platform through which we can connect with key stakeholders and share our knowledge and experiences. This is a considerable benefit for us. Being a part of this expansive network of seafood industry leaders amplifies our voice and provides us with opportunities such as representing GSSI at events and sitting on panels, and doing interviews such as these. More specifically, Seafood MAP was a big reason why we were so interested in joining GSSI. We aim to share with the market what PNG can provide when it comes to sustainable seafood moving towards certification, and this can be done using Seafood MAP. We see so much value in using Seafood MAP to teach our semi-artisanal fisheries how to properly collect and share data. So, I guess in short, GSSI supports us by giving an even greater voice to the local PNG fisher people.
GSSI is a global platform through which we can connect with key stakeholders and share our knowledge and experiences.
PNG’s seafood sector faces a lot of challenges in terms of costs and managing growth with sustainability. How does FIA PNG work to encourage responsible sourcing in such a setting?
Challenging is correct; it’s well known that the cost of doing business in PNG is high compared to places like the Philippines, Thailand, and Ecuador. Freight, water, power, and telecommunication costs are twice as much as those of our main competitors. This unfortunately makes PNG products uncompetitive to the rest of the world. The situation is further compounded by the lack of economies of scale, law and order issues, a lack of basic infrastructure, high labor turnover rates, land issues, and bureaucratic red tape. It takes time to do the right things in a responsible manner, especially in a setting such as this. But that doesn’t mean we can’t.
In 2016, we set out on a journey toward responsible sourcing of PNG’s tuna fisheries, with the aim of obtaining Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. We adopted a responsible sourcing policy in 2018 and that has been a major driving force behind our efforts to meet international standards and best practices. The policy helps us demonstrate the transparency in our fishing operations and thereby enhances fisheries management as a whole. The PNG purse-seine skipjack and yellowfin tuna fishery received MSC certification in May of 2020 and the products are now attracting a premium price and new markets. More recently, and after using the Seafood MAP tool, we embarked on the MSC certification of PNG’s tropical rock lobster fishery. The participation and data collection for the Seafood MAP pilot project has helped us with this – providing a stepping stone toward certification.
You recently visited some of PNG’s tilapia farming operations. What can you tell us about this sector’s current management?
I had a great visit to Port Moresby, the capital of PNG, over the summer. At the end of my first week there, we organized a visit and technical assessment of tilapia farmers; it took us two hours by car and a lovely 40 minutes by boat in the calm waters of a dam to reach the main tilapia farming area in Sirinumu Dam. This is a huge reservoir that was created by the damming of the Upper Laloki River in 1963 and the flooding of the surrounding land. Water from the reservoir is piped down Rouna Gorge to run a hydro-electric plant and to also supply water to the city of Port Moresby.
Aquaculture production is dominated by subsistence farming, followed by small-scale commercial farms that supply the domestic market. NFA provides technical support to the farmers and their families. Family members are responsible for feeding, monitoring and harvesting several tilapia net-pens near to their houses, with NFA providing the materials to build net pens and cages. The authority also runs the hatcheries where farmers obtain fry and fingerlings for their net pens.
There is a growing number of communities joining this management model and during my visit we stopped at three of them, where we learned about the daily tasks carried out by the farmers and how they sell locally to restaurants, hotels and to distributors from Port Moresby. The farmers are very happy working on this NFA-led and supported project. They recognize that the association provides technical support and also incentives them to increase their production in a responsible manner.
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Can you tell us what you learned by being on the ground?
During the visit, I had the pleasure of hosting a Seafood MAP workshop for the NFA and some local tilapia farmers. At the workshop, the NFA shared that it recognizes how Seafood MAP can help authorities and fishers understand the process of demonstrating alignment with sustainability requirements. Jacob Wani (pictured below), executive manager of NFA’s aquaculture development in PNG, told me that aquaculture is relatively new to PNG and many small-scale farmers are still learning about the risks and benefits. He sees Seafood MAP as a way to properly guide fish farmers to sustainably manage and develop their farming operations.
During my visit to the tilapia farms, I had the pleasure of speaking to some of the farmers. Among those, Jonah (pictured below) has been running a farm in the Sirinumu Dam since 2013. He has worked very hard and is learning about the ins and outs of aquaculture. He told me the Seafood MAP gives him courage and he is excited to see how he can continue to use it moving forward to ensure the future of his livelihood.
Being on the farm, and talking to the different fishers, left me with the feeling that we need to continue to move the seafood sustainability movement forward – people’s lives depend on it. I could feel the passion that these farmers have for what they do. Providing them with tools such as Seafood MAP is critical for them to thrive and make a living. Small-scale actors are a foundational aspect of our food systems and we need to support them to accelerate change and so that we can achieve the UN SDGs.
Looking forward, what’s on the horizon for FIA PNG?
FIA PNG aims to move PNG fisheries and aquaculture to a third-party certification scheme recognized by GSSI. We want to use the Seafood MAP to expose PNG fisheries and aquaculture to global markets, to accelerate partnership, and to improve compliance with technical requirements so they can move towards sustainable and socially responsible certifications. By 2023, we aim to move into programs for trout, mudcrab and probably seaweed.
Our Responsible Sourcing Policy RSP is aligned with 11 SDGs and we want to contribute with other PNG aquaculture and fisheries operations. We see a win-win situation for PNG producers/harvesters, PNG authorities, and seafood markets. We will continue to work together with the NFA, which is the guardian of responsible seafood resource management in PNG, as well as with GSSI to move our sustainability journey forward.
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