In 2017, the Marine Stewardship Council and the Dutch Postcode Lottery joined forces to launch Fish For Good, a four-year project aimed at guiding fisheries in South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico towards more sustainable fishing practices.

One of the MSC’s flagship Pathway Projects, Fish For Good engaged several fisheries at the same time, supporting them with a tailored suite of proven tools and approaches.

MSC Pathway projects like Fish for Good follow a four-stage process. 

1. MAPPING

First, fisheries in target geographies are MAPPED using characteristics such as species and area fished, fishing practices, stock status, catch volumes, environmental impacts, market potential and importance to food security.

2. PRE-ASSESSMENT

An advisory group evaluates the findings of the mapping and selects fisheries. These fisheries are PRE-ASSESSED by independent assessors against the MSC’s Fisheries Standard and areas of improvement are identified.

Pre-assessed fisheries are shortlisted for the next stage.  

3. ACTION PLANS

Stakeholders use the pre-assessments to develop ACTION PLANS by collaboratively identifying ways to improve fishery practices toward sustainability.

4. IMPLEMENTATION

Action plans are then IMPLEMENTED by stakeholders through fishery improvement projects (FIPs).

After completing these stages, selected fisheries may be in a position to begin working towards the full assessment process, opening the door to MSC Certification.

FISH FOR GOOD SOUTH AFRICA

Watch the Fish For Good South Africa project journey film

Why South Africa?

South Africa lies at the confluence of two great currents, the warm Agulhas current to the East, and the cold Benguela current to the West.

The two currents help create highly biodiverse and productive conditions along much of the country’s 3,000km coastline, supporting valuable and diverse commercial and artisanal fisheries. Together, these fisheries are very important to the national economy and underpin the lives and livelihoods of numerous coastal communities.

"Optimising the management of South Africa’s fisheries can deliver sustained benefits throughout the seafood supply chain, benefiting coastal communities while rebuilding fish stocks. As well as being vital for food security and people’s livelihoods, fisheries in the Global South overlap with some of the most important marine biodiversity hotspots."
Andrew Gordon, MSC Fisheries Outreach Manager for Southern Africa

South Africa: Fish for Good stages and outcomes

Stage 1

18 fisheries mapped and advisory group established

April 2018 - June 2018
Using stakeholder interviews and in-depth desktop research, the MSC conducted a scan of the 63 fisheries in South Africa and, based on the results, undertook deeper mapping of 18 fisheries.

Through the project, an advisory group was established to provide independent recommendations on activities to deliver the Fish for Good objectives. The local advisory group represented stakeholders in South Africa’s fishing and seafood sectors.

Stage 2

9 fisheries pre-assessed

June 2018-June 2019
The advisory group evaluated the findings of the deeper mapping report and selected 9 fisheries to be pre-assessed against the MSC Fisheries Standard. The pre-assessments themselves were conducted by independent assessors, using gap analyses to evaluate fishery performance and identify areas for improvement.

Stages 3 and 4

5 action plans developed and implemented through FIPs

June 2019 onwards
The advisory group selected 5 of the 9 fisheries that were pre-assessed to undertake action plan development and proceed into Fishery Improvement Projects.

The five selected fisheries, shown on the map below, were

  1. Albacore tuna pole and line
  2. East Coast rock lobster
  3. Saldanha Bay rope-grown mussel
  4. Squid jig
  5. Yellowfin tuna longline

Stages 3 and 4 were coordinated by the project’s implementing partner, WWF South Africa. During these stages, the gaps identified in the pre-assessments were translated into a 'to do' list for each fishery so that stakeholders could begin working together towards improved sustainability. Priority actions included the development of harvest control rules and fishery-specific management plans, data collection refinements, assessments of fishery interactions with endangered, threatened and protected species, reducing catch of non-target stocks and understanding potential ecosystem impacts.

ALBACORE TUNA POLE AND LINE

Watch the Albacore pole and line film

Fishery profile

Tuna is one of the world’s most popular and economically valuable seafoods. There has been a global increase in demand for tuna, with an estimated 5.8 million tons now caught annually. In South Africa, tuna has been both an important part of fishing culture and key contributor to the economy since the mid 1960s.

One of the five tuna species fished in South African waters is albacore, a temperate tuna widely distributed throughout the world’s oceans. Around 2,500 people work in the fishery, which operates largely out of the harbours at Cape Town and Hout Bay. Vessels typically stay within 200km of their home port, but may travel up to 1,000km offshore in search of their catch.

"How we fish hasn’t changed much over generations. We still use the bamboo rods, and we still fish by hand."
Joao Fernandes, Skipper

The albacore are targeted using pole and line, a centuries-old technique for catching tuna, thought to have originated in the Maldives. Once a school of tuna is sighted, water sprayers and baitfish are used to create the illusion of a large school of fish near the surface.

This encourages the tuna into a feeding frenzy, so much so that they will bite at any shiny, moving object in the water. The fishers capitalise on this, using barbless hooks attached to long wooden poles to heave the tuna one-at-a-time onto the deck.

"This is very targeted. You identify the tuna as you pull it up. You’re not catching anything else. There’s a respect for the ocean."
Michelle Bellinger, Tuna Trader


Fish for Good Improvement Actions

  • The fishery and government are working with regional fisheries management authorities to define harvest control rules for south Atlantic Albacore.
  • The fishery is committed to developing a system to collect and record all encounters with, and catches of, non-target species.  
  • The fishery is determining the risk of its operations to endangered, threatened and protected species, and is working to develop a strategy to minimise any potential impacts. 
  • The fishery has shown its commitment to sustainability by entering the ‘In-transition to MSC’ program and received £50,000 from the organisation’s Ocean Stewardship Fund to allow the fishery to respond effectively to any future changes in stock levels.

“The Albacore tuna pole and line fishery have shown a real commitment to demonstrating the sustainability of their fishing operations. It has been a great experience guiding and supporting them on this journey. From Fish for Good, through the MSC’s ITM programme, to a point where they will be in a position to undertake full assessment against the MSC’s Fisheries Standard.”

Andrew Gordon, MSC Fisheries Outreach Manager for Southern Africa

SEE THE FISHERS IN ACTION

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"For a small fishery like Albacore, that doesn't have the financial means to be able to compete with the bigger industrialised fleets, the MSC really has come to the party and said 'we will provide you with the necessary expertise and support and we'll walk together with you towards achieving MSC certification'"

Clyde Bodenham, President of South African Tuna Association

EAST COAST ROCK LOBSTER

Watch the East Coast rock lobster fishery film

Fishery profile

The East Coast rock lobster is an important natural resource for communities along the Transkei coast of the Eastern Cape. With few employment opportunities in the rural parts of the region, many households are food insecure and heavily dependent on the ocean for their lives and livelihoods. Fishers harvest numerous species for local consumption, including bream, rock cod and grunter, as well as limpets and mussels.

But the most important species by far is the East Coast rock lobster. Local fishers collect lobsters by hand during the day. Lobster catches are too valuable to be eaten by the fishers and are sold instead to processors. The majority of the lobster catches are exported to U.S. and Asian markets, while the rest are sold locally, to hotels and restaurants. The lobsters are a vital economic lifeline to the region.

"When I’m fishing, I’m happy. I’m happy because I’m able to feed my family. Here you can make a living with your own hands. You don’t go to sleep hungry when you’ve caught lobster."
Phumlani Jani, Lobster Fisher

The fishery is managed through a system of size and bag limits. Fishers are allowed to collect no more than eight lobsters per day each, and every lobster landed must be of a permissible size. Harvesting is prohibited during closed seasons, which have been established to protect the species during its reproductive season.

The fishery has only recently embarked on its journey towards sustainability, and faces several challenges. Data are limited, but the stock is thought to be fully fished across its entire distribution, and overfished in certain localised areas. Fishers without permits harvest lobster illegally and during closed seasons, undermining sustainable management. And most recently, the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns have cut the fishers off from the rest of the value chain, reducing local incomes.

Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs that the Fish For Good project is starting to contribute to improved management of the fishery.

"I have been amazed by the level of understanding and commitment to sustainability by small-scale fishers in the East Coast rock lobster fishery."
Bokamoso Lebepe, Fishery Improvement Coordinator, WWF SA


Fish for Good Improvement Actions

Some of the actions include:

  • The fishery is undertaking to design and implement a system to collect information on catches and interactions with other species. This will be used to inform an assessment of the status of the stock and develop a fishery-specific management plan.
  • Other information will be collected to better understand how the fishery impacts benthic habitats, and if required, a strategy will be developed to manage these impacts. 
  • An anticipated future development is the creation of a more inclusive governance structure that provides an opportunity for all stakeholders to be heard.

"Our ocean requires that we preserve her because our children’s future depends on it too."

Masukude Malindi, Fisherwoman

SEE THE FISHERS IN ACTION

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SALDANHA BAY ROPE-GROWN MUSSELS

Watch the Saldanha Bay rope-grown mussels film

Fishery profile

Saldanha, 100km north of Cape Town, is one of the oldest fishing villages in South Africa. The naturally sheltered bay – the largest in the country – is fed by the cool, nutrient-rich waters of the Benguela Current. With good circulation and high water quality, the bay is an extremely productive ecosystem and boasts ideal conditions for filter feeders, including mussels and oysters.

Two species of mussel, the indigenous black mussel (Choromytilus meridionalis) and the introduced Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) now occur naturally in the bay. They start life as free-swimming larvae in search of a hard surface – usually a rock – to attach to. Local harvesters capitalise on this with vertical farms: systems of ropes suspended from longlines or rafts which provide a substrate for mussels to settle on. Once there, the so-called “rope-grown mussels” are left to feed and grow naturally for several months, before being reeled in and harvested.

"They’re grown naturally. All you need is nutrient-rich water. You can harvest every seven months, over and over again, as long as it’s done sustainably.”
Cratton van Niekerk, Farm Manager for African Olive Trading

The Bay’s rope-grown mussel fishery is considered to be well-managed with limited impact on the wider marine environment. It’s also providing much-needed employment for a local community reeling from the recent closure of its steel mill and loss of more than 1,000 jobs.

It’s early days, but there are already signs that the Fish For Good project is having a positive impact on the community.

"The initial improvement we have seen is environmental, but the knock on effects are social too. There’s a customer preference not only for a sustainably grown product, but one which delivers social benefits too."
Benjamin Ward, Chief Executive of Atlantic Royal


Fish for Good Improvement Actions

  • The fishery, together with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, is implementing a monitoring programme and collecting baseline information to improve understanding of the potential impacts the fishery might have on the seabed.
  • The fishery and government are also partnering to develop a management strategy to minimise potential ecosystem impacts from cleaning biofouling organisms off mussel ropes.
  • The fishers are being trained to collect information on interactions with endangered, threatened or protected species and will develop strategies for managing these interactions.
  • The fishery has shown its commitment to sustainability by entering the ‘In-transition to MSC’ program and received £50,000 from the organisation’s Ocean Stewardship Fund to implement improvements.

“The rope-grown mussel fishery has an impressive vision. They want to grow their fishery for the benefit of the wider Saldanha Bay community but also ensure it's done at international best practice level for sustainability - choosing to benchmark their progress against the MSC’s Fisheries Standard.”

Andrew Gordon, MSC Fisheries Outreach Manager for Southern Africa

SEE THE FISHERS IN ACTION

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SQUID JIG

Watch the Squid fishery film

Fishery profile

The Squid jig fishery uses hand lines to catch Cape Hope squid (Loligo reynaudii, known locally as chokka), off the south coast of South Africa.

Based largely along the Eastern Cape coast, the fishery has grown substantially in recent decades. Today, it’s worth an estimated €43 million + a year and is vital to the regional coastal economy. It’s the sector’s third largest employer in South Africa, and directly supports 2,500 people in St Francis Bay alone – half the permanent population. One of the country’s most important seafood exports, ‘chokka’ is largely shipped to Southern Europe, where it is particularly valued for its taste and texture.

"I've been fishing for 37 years give or take. I say fishing is in my blood. We are totally dependent on the stock that’s out there. If the squid live, we live."
Arthur Paulse, Skipper

The fishery is widely regarded as well managed. Globally, most squid are caught in trawl nets or with automatic squid jigging machines. The South Africa jig fishery however, uses hand lines. This means the squid are taken one-at-a-time, so there is very little accidental capture of other species or undersized squid, and where this does happen, they can easily be released back into the sea unharmed.

There is limited impact on habitats, because the fishing takes place in the water column, far above the seabed. And it’s more labour intensive than newer methods, making the fishery a crucial source of local employment.

"The commitment to sustainability shown by the Squid jig fishery has been incredible. The fishery adopted voluntary closed seasons during the spawning time of squid to ensure the squid stocks can be replenished sustainably."
Bokamoso Lebepe, Fishery Improvement Coordinator, WWF SA

Aside from the choice of gear type, the fishery operates two closed seasons to help protect spawning stock, and also manages total effort, limiting both the number of people allowed to fish and the number of days at sea.

Read more about Arthur and the other squid fishers in our article The Cape's Hope.


Fish for Good Improvement Actions

  • The fishery is committed to working with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries to develop well-defined Harvest Control Rules.
  • The fishery is undertaking to work with wide range of stakeholders to develop a strategy to minimise the impacts of vessel anchors on benthic habitats.
  • The fishery is planning to work with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries to develop an explicit Fishery Management Plan, with long and short-term objectives centred around an ecosystem approach to fishing.

"To protect the environment and the ocean is part in parcel of our industry. If you don’t look after the ocean or after this squid stock, there can be no industry. That’s a fact. Chokka means everything to this community."

Johan Barnard, St Francis Harbour Master

SEE THE FISHERS IN ACTION