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Market Incentives for Marine Conservation and Sustainable Development: Environmental Responsibility Standard for the Commercialization of Marine Fish


Artisanal fisheries are the main source of seafood for the internal market in the countries along the Eastern Tropical Pacific. In most cases, they are also the source of protein and sole productive activity available to the vulnerable populations in the related coastal areas.


Characterized by common lack of schooling and social integration opportunities, the artisanal fishing communities have no access to alternative occupations, and are condemned to inherited poverty and minimal quality of life. In Costa Rica alone, approximately 15,000 fisher families depend on the marine ecosystem as their main basis of income which, on average, ranges from US$59 to US$335/ month (for households of five people). A similar reality is evidenced by equally numerous sectors in Panama and Colombia. However, the increasing demand for marine products and the longstanding, non-discriminatory fishing practices have depleted the resource, threating the health and sustainability of the ocean ecosystems and the long-term survival of the artisanal sector in the region.


Traditional intermediaries exerting their negotiation power over the supply-end stakeholders, based on price competitiveness, lead the sales process. The low earnings paid at the starting point of the commercialization chain prompt the fishers to intensify the capture effort, adding to the impact of the escalating catch volumes required to fulfill the internal markets. Unsustainable product is traditionally regarded as acceptable.


There are no market incentives to encourage behavioral changes on behalf of the fishers or the distributors, in favor of the environment. The fisher does not know about the end buyers’ needs and expectations, or the potential opportunities to leverage and enhance the value of the artisanal product. In addition, despite a growing concern over food safety and sustainability, up to now, the consumer has had little possibility to access information about the seafood, and no channel to influence the industry´s sourcing mechanisms.

Creating Value Chains is one way to promote sustainable fishing practices (Responsible Markets). Responsible Markets focus on using selective fishing techniques, fishing non-traditional species, and implementing minimum catch-sizes. In addition, to upholding and respecting the no-fishing dates to allow fish populations to replenish their stock. These practices may increase the sale price for the artisanal fishers and raise consumer awareness.

Relevant efforts have been deployed in the international realm, fostering the conservation of the marine ecosystems through the validation of good fishing practices as a requirement to participate in premium markets in the United States and Europe. The existing certifications focus on the supply end of the chain, for the most part convenient for industrial operations, of high volume or single species fisheries, such as tuna, crab, or salmon. However, artisanal fishers cannot compete with industrial operations. They typically work alone, and depend on small volumes of multiple species. The cost associated to the assessment has been another barrier for the specific sector in the region, given the low-income returns of their subsistence activity. Therefore, the market incentive intended by the sustainable product export markets has not materialized as benefit for the local groups, which have continued to use unsustainable fishing practices and to serve non-sensitized buyers in the local markets.


With financial support from the LOTEX Foundation, MarViva created the Environmental Responsibility Standard for the Commercialization of Marine Fish(the Standard)


Environmental Responsibility Standard for the Commercialization of Marine Fish


The Environmental Responsibility Standard for the Commercialization of Marine Fish acts as market incentive for conservation and sustainable development, driven by the demand end of the commercialization chain. It will allow MarViva to complement the efforts that advanced with the fishers supplying the marine fish commercialization chains, by involving the buyers and end consumer as key players to boost the generation of sustainable seafood markets. The Standard does not include imported fish, farmed species, or freshwater fish.


The Standard´s objective is to certify businesses that sell fish captured and commercialized in ways that contribute to conservation and promote responsible fishing.


We have significant regional expertise in Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, establishing value chains that streamline the commercialization process and allow better sales conditions for the fishers that respect environmental considerations in the fishing activity. We have raised awareness among fish buyers and consumers, about the vulnerability of the marine environment. We have secured agreements for private sector actors to collaborate with MarViva and artisanal fishers for the creation of responsible seafood sourcing processes. We have established personal linkages among the local community groups and local buyers, to enable close understanding of each other’s needs and expectations, and design collaborative work plans that guide the commercial relation.


Market Incentives for Marine Conservation and Sustainable Development


The Standard fosters the corporate buyers’ adoption of a new sourcing policy incorporating ocean sustainability in the companies’ philosophy and the establishment of long-term business partnerships among buyers and suppliers of marine product. It offers the market stakeholders the possibility to embrace the business opportunity of an increasing buyers’ preference for capture techniques that protect the resilience of the marine ecosystems. It also enables the insertion of responsible artisanal fishers in higher-value commercial processes.


Through a homologous assessment program, engaged restaurants, distributors, and supermarkets are audited on their commitment to ocean conservation. The end buyer, enabling informed decisions regarding seafood, awards them compliance qualifications that will be recognizable. The dynamics around The Standard thus rely on the consolidation of responsible fishing value chains to promote the sustainability of the marine conservation strategy.


We have implemented the Standard in three countries: Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama. So far, through this implementation we have:


  • 334 metric tons of fish caught in a responsible way and sold through higher value chains to eight corporate buyers
  • 17 receiving centers with the capacity to commercialize sustainable products
  • Over 240 community members, angler association members and receiving center staff trained in sustainable fishing techniques, species ID, accounting, management, customer service, etc.
  • Implemented the traceability system with the receiving centers as base for later introduction of a digital system
  • Corporate buyers more involved with artisanal fisher´s wellbeing.
  • Increased the price of fish sold by artisanal angler by 27%-48% per kilogram


Leveraging market demand for marine conservation


The success reached during the initial implementation of the Standard and the market incentives it generates leads us to seek a larger conversion of the market towards sustainable fishing practices. During 2016 to 2019, we will work to leverage the market demand through responsible consumption, consolidating market value chains and the commercialization of responsibly caught seafood. Additionally, we will strive to strengthen our corporate certification method.

So far, we have:

  • A sale price increase of 27%-48% for artisanal anglers, increasing their income
  • Benefited more than 300 vulnerable families through the income increase
  • Upgraded infrastructure, administrative and organizational capacity in three small businesses
  • 5 new commercial routes in Choco, Colombia
  • Upgraded infrastructure of four fish markets
  • 16 certified points of sale in restaurants belonging to Wok and Takami corporate groups to  Silver level in Colombia
  • 96 metric tons (avg.) of responsibly fished seafood sold through Wok and Takami restaurant chains.
  • Over 230 thousand clients a month visit MarViva certified restaurants.

The project will continue to consolidate the value chains in the coming months. The Digital Traceability System will also come into play in the future. We expect the system to provide reliable data on the origin and end of the fish sold throughout the value chain.



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