John Burton: STAC meeting in Bangkok will help show us the way forward

IPNLF Chairman, John Burton gives an update to the successes of the 3rd staff, STAC and trustees meeting.
IPNLF STAC gathered in Bangkok for the annual meeting © IPNLF

This past week, I joined IPNLF colleagues in Bangkok, Thailand, for the 3rd meeting of the International Pole & Line Foundation’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC). Essentially, the STAC team advises IPNLF on how to best increase the supply of sustainably pole-and-line caught tuna, and the evidence to support and enable this. It helps formulate our work programme and advises on how we can best engage with fisheries. This was, therefore, a very important meeting and my thanks goes to our IPNLF members MMP, Marks & Spencer and World Wise Foods for their sponsorship of this event.

The meeting was preceded with the presentation of the inaugural IPNLF Award – given for inspiration and collaboration to Dr Mohamed Shainee, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture in the Maldives. The new award recognises the Government of the Maldives inspirational leadership in the sustainable fisheries sector, in particular its collaborative commitments to the international development of one-by-one tuna fisheries.

It’s widely recognised that the ‘no net’ Maldives pole-and-line or handline fisheries are the cleanest and greenest in the world, making the country a global inspiration to developing sustainable and equitable tuna fisheries. And since his coming to office just under two years ago, Minister Shainee has been influential in the progression of IPNLF’s one-by-one fishery projects in the Maldives, such as the development of the first nationally recognised fisher’s curriculum this year.

The Maldives Government has been a driving force behind Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification – a process that’s instrumental in ensuring international markets recognise the Maldivian fishery for its responsible and sustainable practices. It has also been influential in encouraging fishery improvements beyond Maldives own borders, in particular driving forward sustainability initiatives in the IOTC and the Indonesian tuna Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) - offering the support of the Maldives as Indonesia progresses towards MSC certification and suggesting that these two countries act as strong allies for RFMO progress. All these measures and others make for a very worthy recipient of our first IPNLF award.

And so, onto the STAC meeting proper. Opening the event, I took the opportunity to remind attendees of IPNLF’s vision and mission. IPNLF are committed to a future where coastal communities, and the fisheries and seas that they depend upon, thrive. Our role is two-fold: We promote the benefits of pole-and-line and handline; and we also work to develop these fisheries - to support and improve their viability and sustainability. Thanks to the assistance of the STAC, we underpin this work based on the latest scientific research and insight.

Our purpose is not just environmental, it’s also social – we want to improve the lives of the hard working pole-and-line and handline fishers who often find it difficult to compete in an industry dominated by large-scale industrial fishing. An important part of our work involves connecting people and organisations that want to support the sustainable development of this sector. Our members include a range of organisations and businesses involved in the one-by-one tuna supply chain. They have proven to be active collaborators, and together we have enjoyed some great successes already. IPNLF now stand at an impressive 30 members. Notable recent additions include Greenworld, which is involved in the Maldives fishery; and the Western Fish Boat Owners Association (WFOA), catching albacore on the US west-coast.

During the STAC meeting, I updated attendees on the broader tuna pole-and-line and handline sector landscape, including some of the key trends and issues that we have witnessed in the past year. Some are direct challenges, and others present further opportunities to fulfil our mission. I highlighted what I think is probably the most inspiring trend – that is the growing spirit of international collaboration we’ve seen in the pole-and-line and handline sector in the last 12 months. IPNLF is part of this – engaging on more joint projects with more partners, such as ISSF and MDPI on the small-scale Proactive Vessel Register pilot in Indonesia. Moving forward, I believe we need to further harness this collaborative spirit and stimulate its growth. IPNLF can be a hub that connects fisher associations, processors and retailers. We want to help build a network that supports the supply chain.

To be the advocates of pole-and-line and handline, we must become much more international in the years ahead. We have focused and done a lot of good work in the Maldives and Indonesia, which will continue. But we must also broaden our horizons. Preliminary work is already underway with fisheries in Ecuador and Costa Rica, and we recently investigated the feasibility of work in a number of African countries too. Indeed, there are many countries, fisheries and communities that could benefit from engaging with the IPNLF network and this is where the STAC’s guidance – the result of these crucial meetings – will prove invaluable.

In these few days spent together in Bangkok, the STAC identified more emerging issues that are likely to affect our sector and supply chains as well as areas where IPNLF can provide meaningful engagement and maximum impact. Our executive team will incorporate this advice and recommendations into our strategic planning in the coming weeks and shall partner with STAC members to advance the ideas into funded projects. Having face-to-face time together has proven once again to be valuable for charting IPNLF’s course, thank you to all the IPNLF STAC and team for their energy and passion committed to the shared vision of a thriving future for one-by-one fisheries and the people and environments connected to them.