A special message from Jim Cannon, chief executive officer of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) regarding COVID-19

To the SFP community and beyond:
At this time, we’re all understandably deeply worried about ourselves and our families.

I am relieved to say that the SFP team around the world are all at home and are still well. We have been able to provide more flexibility in working hours and short-term leave.

We are fortunate that, for most of us, the impacts of the COVID-19 situation are still currently minor. We’re washing our hands a lot more, getting used to wearing masks, and doing the “two-meter tango” to avoid close contact with people on the street or in the grocery store. Some of us are facing – some might unkindly say tortured by – new tasks like home-schooling or trying to remotely install video chat software on our parents’ computers.

Unfortunately, some of us are experiencing much more serious impacts close to home. There are a few SFP staff members that have symptoms of the virus but have not been tested yet. And sadly, some of us at SFP know people that have passed away.

It’s hard to think much about work under such dire circumstances.

However, we have been consulting with our retail and restaurant partners, distributors, importers and suppliers in Supply Chain Roundtables (SRs), NGO collaborators, and exporters, as well as fishers and farmers leading individual fishery and aquaculture improvement projects (FIPs and AIPs). We are working to understand how their livelihoods and businesses are being impacted and how that is changing our shared work on Target 75 and sustainability in general.

We anticipate that there will be opportunities to help, as well as to advance sustainability outcomes. We will come to you in the next few days and weeks with more specific recommendations as these scenarios unfold.

The biggest news I see right now is that some fish stocks may rebuild significantly because of reduced fishing pressure. The biggest reductions in fishing mortality are in fisheries supplying food service. As restaurants close, prices have dropped and fishers are staying in port. Among the affected fisheries, we will see the biggest rebuilding effect in fast-growing species like blue swimming crab and octopus.

Our immediate priority needs to be to figure out how we can ensure that stocks stay healthy as fishing pressure climbs again. The worse outcome will be if the stocks are rapidly overfished again, taking us straight back to our current situation of overfishing and impoverished fishers. Then, all of the pain fishers and the seafood industry are currently going through will have been for nothing.

I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t say for sure how rapidly fishing pressure will climb. However, I’m guessing it will be quick, as supply chains and restaurants figure out how to do home delivery to consumers. That means we may only have a narrow window of opportunity to work with fishers and supply chains to put robust solutions in place.

SFP is now focusing on evaluating existing FIPs where fishing pressure is way down. We are working with FIP leads and through SRs to see if FIPs can change workplans to prioritize the most critical improvements to control and align fishing effort with what nature can provide. We are also looking at how FIPs can modify their workplans to deliver more rapid financial benefits and address other financial concerns of participants.

Other fisheries, especially sardines and tuna for canning, are going full steam ahead to meet retailer demand. We are receiving reports of rapid increases in fishing pressure as fishers switch gears to target these fish stocks. Temporary managed increases in fishing pressure during times of economic crisis are entirely reasonable. However, FIPs in these fisheries need to react now and work with regulators to prevent uncontrolled overfishing, especially if the level of fishing starts to rapidly deplete stocks.

In addition to these possible new opportunities, we are continuing much of the work we have always done remotely, which remains largely unaffected, e.g., updating FishSource profiles and FIP ratings, and discussing work priorities with SRs and partners.

We are also finding virtual solutions for work that we would normally do face-to-face or in group meetings, like assisting and advising FIPs as they update their workplans, supporting data collection and dialogues with fishers and farmers, and engaging with regulators in key fisheries.

In general, some form of the work we do to support FIPs and AIPs can continue remotely and be effective in our existing improvement projects, as well as in emerging projects where a lot of face-to-face development work has already been done. That’s because the main stakeholders now know each other well, and can switch fairly smoothly to working remotely for the next few months.

Unfortunately, there is one key piece of work that Supply Chain Roundtables simply cannot do remotely: that is, develop and launch new FIPs and AIPs from scratch.

In most of these projects, the different players – catchers, exporters, importers, NGOs – still need to get to know each other and build understanding and trust. We rely on face-to-face meetings to achieve this and don’t believe we can achieve adequate results working virtually.

The first phase of Target 75 (T75), due to end in December 2020, was to launch new FIPs and AIPs, so that 75 percent of world production in key seafood sectors makes a start on the journey toward sustainability. We have made a lot of progress in the past few years, and had planned on a big final push in 2020 to get critical new FIPs and AIPs to launch. The face-to-face work planned for the next few months has now been cancelled, and so these FIPs and AIPs will now not likely launch until at least 2021.

So we are switching things around to bring forward and deepen dialogue with our partners, SRs, and collaborators on the second phase of T75, which will launch as planned later in 2020. This will include work to get the new FIPs and AIPs underway that we could not get done by the end of 2020.

The main focus in the second phase of T75 will be ensuring that all of the existing improvement projects maintain good progress and are addressing critical issues.

In many cases FIPs and AIPs are making good progress and can continue “as is,” ideally with even more industry leadership. However, we also see shortfalls in progress where further support to industry is necessary from SFP and other NGOs. In fisheries, the main areas of support needed from SFP include ensuring that: (1) all FIPs are using best practices to protect endangered species, (2) all FIPs for small-scale fisheries include adequate workstreams to make co-management effective, and (3) all FIPs in a country are collaborating to secure essential changes in how governments set policy, and regulate and manage fisheries.

On April 29, we hope you will join us and Sea Pact for a Seafood Source webinar on Target 75, covering the implications of the current scenario on the seafood industry and the progress and goals of the initiative. We will also provide updates on the revised workplans and new opportunities our staff and networks have developed.

In these difficult and rapidly evolving times, I am challenging our organization to get energized, push forward, and be leaders in creating and delivering solutions. We are putting our collective experience, expertise, and ingenuity behind this, and we will be nimble, something we are well known for.

Please stay in touch. Your partnership and guidance is critical – now more than ever. Also, please do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or if we can be helpful or support you in any way. If you have ideas or suggestions, send them to me at jim.cannon@sustainablefish.org. I look forward to hearing from you.

Together we will come through this and continue to do what we do best: innovating and delivering healthy fisheries through the creation of a responsible seafood economy.

Please stay safe. Sincerely, Jim