"It is important to understand how small- scale fishermen are reacting to the new demands from the western market”
The focus of my thesis is to understand how the emergence of Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIP) is contributing to the enhancement of sustainable fisheries governance. Besides the theoretical analysis of the emergence of FIP, I collected data from a FIP in Lagonoy Gulf, the Philippines. This FIP, officially named the Partnership Program towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST) is a cooperation project between WWF-Philippines, WWF- Germany, Bell Seafood and Seafresh Urk. The PPTST seeks to establish market access for hand-line tuna fishermen along the Gulf of Lagonoy and at the same time move towards MSC certification. Bell Seafood and Seafresh Urk are EU market actors, who seek to institute direct supply chains of yellow-fin tuna from the Philippines.
The choice for the artisanal tuna hand-line fisheries in Lagonoy Gulf was based on the fact that these fisheries are more selective that the usual long-line (industrial) tuna fisheries. By-catch and discard rates are lower which means that they have less impact on other species. Also, artisanal hand-line vessels have a limited operational range which allows for more effective fisheries management and enforcement.
During the fieldwork I was based in Tabaco, Albay with at the field office of WWF-Philippines, I was able to join the WWF- Philippines site coordinators while they worked in the different municipalities and I was able to do the interview with both fishermen and tuna traders in the two municipalities namely, namely Tiwi and Tabaco. My fieldwork determined the perceptions of small-scale yellow-fin tuna fishermen and fish traders in Lagonoy Gulf, about the moving towards MSC certification through Fisheries Improvement Projects.
It is important to understand how small- scale fishermen are reacting to the new demands from the “western market” and whether participation in the global value chain of tuna is leading to new opportunities for them. Ultimately, tuna fishermen impact the fisheries and their ecosystems, which is why understanding what influences fishermen behaviour and capabilities is crucial to addressing overexploitation of tuna.
The thesis fieldwork determined perceptions of actors involved in the PPTST about certification, improvement, and sustainability. This followed from the idea that FIPs are external factors which manifest on a local setting and consequently there is a high chance that there will be varied responses to it. Besides this actual strategies of fishermen to improve their situation were also analysed because perceptions may vary from actual opportunities fishermen and tuna traders create for themselves to improve their situation.
My fieldwork in Lagonoy was a productive and interesting experience. I look back my time in the Philippines with fond memories of good weather, perfect beaches where tuna is landed and a yearning for some fresh fish. The analysis of the data is on-going; the thesis will be completed in the coming months.