Convened by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from November 8-10, the International Mahi Mahi FIP Workshop was attended by dozens of the United States’ largest seafood buyers and retailers, as well as local fishermen and suppliers, and US and Peruvian government officials.
WWF helped establish fishery improvement projects for mahi mahi in Ecuador and Peru to improve the fisheries’ practices as part of a stepwise approach to achieve certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). WWF and other stakeholders are developing a mahi mahi fishery improvement project in Costa Rica. Thousands of fishermen in this region bring in tens of thousands of metric tons of mahi mahi each year, making these fisheries the world’s top sources of the fish, also known as dorado and dolphin fish.
“As fish stocks are overdrawn and consumers demand more sustainable seafood, major retailers and food service providers are buying more often—some exclusively—from MSC certified fisheries,” said Wendy Goyert, senior program officer for World Wildlife Fund’s oceans program.
“Fishery improvement projects in Ecuador, Peru, and Costa Rica are critical steps on the path to MSC certification that enable fishers and their communities to continue meeting global demand in ways that are environmentally sustainable.”
The Peruvian and Ecuadorian mahi mahi fisheries are working to address several critical challenges.
Because mahi mahi are highly migratory fish, international cooperation is needed to monitor and manage the fisheries across borders. By using new fishing gear, log books, and other tools and techniques, the fisheries are working to improve data collection and reduce the incidental catch of non-target species, such as sea turtles and sharks.
“It’s critical to have the support and involvement of international and domestic business leaders as well as government officials, conservationists, and scientific institutions,” said Caroline Tippett, director of seafood engagement, WWF-US. “The interest, commitments and support from large buyers for sustainable mahi mahi is giving fishermen here the assurance they need to make meaningful improvements on the water.”
With the United States’ new illegal fishing regulation is expected to come into force, John Henderschedt, director of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection Program, spoke at the meeting regarding the importance of traceability and transparency for mahi mahi, which is one of the imported species that will be regulated. Local regulations are also important for ensuring the use of appropriate equipment, compliance with closed seasons and minimum catch size, and effective monitoring and enforcement.
“To be sustainable, seafood must be traceable from bait to plate,” said David Schorr, head of WWF’s Transparent Seas Project.
“Fishermen and their buyers have to work together to set common specifications for traceability systems that can work across different fisheries. Fortunately, the meeting’s attendees recognized the importance of this issue and are working together to make the mahi mahi supply chain more transparent.”
Peru’s Vice Minister of Fishing and Aquaculture, Rear Admiral Héctor Soldi, Retired, spoke to the attendees about the importance of balancing economic, social, and environmental sustainability.
Following the meeting, the attendees visited fishing villages of La Tortuga and La Islilla as well as the seaport of Paita. There, major US buyers met with fishermen responsible for catching the mahi mahi to express their support for sustainable fisheries management and to understand the challenges they face.
“Because they have such strong economic influence, international buyers play a critical role in engaging governments to create enabling conditions that foster sustainability,” said Samuel Amorós, marine program senior manager, WWF-Peru.
“By setting the right policies and supporting their artisanal fleets, governments can help fishermen and their communities as well as their countries’ diverse marine wildlife and the ecosystems that support them.”