October is National Seafood Month, and while we’ve taken some time to enjoy all the delicious offerings our oceans provide, it’s also important to think about the fishermen and women, some thousands of miles away, who are an essential part of our seafood system. At North Atlantic Inc., we recognize that without the efforts of the people who harvest, process, ship, and otherwise drive the engines of this industry, it would not exist.
The seafood industry has, in recent years, come under close scrutiny for issues related to human and labor rights. Stories about enslavement, abuse, unfair wages, and poor working conditions in seafood supply chains have pervaded the media. These stories highlight the critical importance of legal, transparent, and verifiable practices throughout the industry to ensure every seafood worker’s rights are upheld.
So, what is NAI doing about this issue?
North Atlantic, Inc. and our subsidiary company PT Bali Seafood International are involved in various efforts to ensure we are addressing social responsibility in equal measure to environmental responsibility. We are committed to demonstrating positive leadership in the field.
Unfortunately, there is an intricate web of economic, political, environmental, and social factors that can contribute to situations of human rights and labor abuse. We recognize that while our sphere of influence is smaller than some other companies or governments, we can start by making a tangible difference in the lives of our fishers through the creation and implementation of our commercially sponsored fishery management initiative in Indonesia.
NAI and PT Bali Seafood International have been working on-the-ground in the Lesser Sunda region of Indonesia for the past ten years, on the island of Sumbawa. This 5,800 square mile island is home to about 1.5 million people, most of whom rely on agriculture for work and survival. NAI is determined to work from the bottom up, directly with small fishing communities, to create a sustainable system that works better for all.
At the core of our initiative are the people we have met and been working with in Sumbawa. These families have some of the most productive waters to fish in, but lack the infrastructure needed to get their product to market in a way that reflects its quality and value. The fishers have also historically lacked the data, education, and services required to take charge of their resource and manage it in a way that improves the livelihoods of the entire community.
At NAI, we acknowledge the environmental and social challenges of these small-scale fisheries while also seeing their enormous potential. When we look around the fishing villages of Sumbawa, we envision how these communities might further thrive through new initiatives that provide critical services and investment for meeting multi-faceted social needs.
What if the fishers were paid on time, and for the real value of the fish they catch? What if they had access to better gear and financial planning? What if they could be in charge of enforcement and fishing licenses, and either sell those licenses or pass them down to the next generation? What if they had a socially and environmentally sustainable system in place that honored and rewarded the work they do?
NAI wants to know the answer to these “what ifs,” and we have been doing and continue to do the work necessary to integrate these standards into our Fishery Community Center model. We are committed to making these Centers a success, because we believe they will not only improve the quality of fish being imported but also improve conditions for fishing communities: a true win-win.
For us, National Seafood Month represents both a time to celebrate what we’ve done and to get excited for the future. We are eager to fully operationalize the first of four planned Fishery Community Centers in the coming months, allowing us to put in action what we and the fishing communities of Sumbawa have built together.