Transparency matters: interview with Sea Quest Fiji Ltd.

Posted on 23 December 2013

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The Smart Fishing Initiative interviewed Brett Haywood (Blu) about his aspirations for collaborating with WWF and the challenges tuna fishing companies are facing today.

The Smart Fishing Initiative interviewed Brett Haywood (Blu) about his aspirations for collaborating with WWF and the challenges tuna fishing companies are facing today.

About 25 years ago in Suva, the capital of the Islands of the Republic of Fiji, Brett William Haywood (Blu) followed in the footsteps of his father, a lobster fisherman and engineer with a big passion for the sea who started his own fishing business. Blu boarded his first trawler when he was only 16 years old. In 2006 he took over Sea Quest Fiji Ltd., now a tuna fishing and processing company of substantial size. Today the company employs more than 200 people and exports tuna mainly to the U.S. and Japan and newly upcoming markets such as the EU, New Zealand and Australia. Eight licensed fishing vessels haul in their catch using a selective, sustainable long line fishing method. All fisheries in the Economic Exclusive Fishing Zones (EEZ) of the waters of Fiji are certified against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards.

In June 2013, Blu entered a partnership with WWF to demonstrate full transparency of the company´s fishing operations of the MSC- certified Albacore tuna fishery. Six Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmitters were installed and activated round-the-clock on his vessels to track and monitor fishing activities. With many tuna fish stocks being overexploited, WWF uses and promotes the AIS system as a way to monitor global fisheries activities in order to make fisheries more transparent and efficiently managed.

Q: What made you decide to embark in this project with WWF?

Blu: The first time I’d ever heard of an AIS system was on “Deadliest Catch”, a reality television series issued on Discovery Channel TV, portraying the life aboard fishing vessels. I wasn’t so sure what this was all about, until, in May last year, I spoke to Bubba Cook, WWF´s Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Officer who explained the system in more detail. After hearing about the benefits of the AIS system and how it could help to improve sustainable fisheries management, I was keen on having these installed on my vessels and test it out myself.

Q: Could you tell us something about the AIS system you have installed on your boats?

Blu : During the last months, six units have been installed on all Sea Quest fishing vessels that are sending constant signals from the vessels to the WWF database to retrace and evaluate fishing and vessel shipping operations on the water. Our captains have reported that they are very positive because the AIS units greatly assist their operations. They also serve as an additional aid to the other equipment on board.

Q: You support WWF in calling for better, more transparent fisheries governance. What´s your view on better governance?

Blu: With the AIS installation, safety and transparency of compliance with fishing areas are being addressed. Other issues like illegal fishing, barcoding of fish, electronic monitoring of fisheries as well as satellite monitoring need to be part of a larger framework to be addressed through regulatory measures. I believe that the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji could look at implementing mandatory use of AIS units on all Fiji flagged vessels as a means of increasing vessel safety at sea. This could also be a backup surveillance for fisheries.

Q: What would be your message to the fishing industry, governments, WWF?

Blu: When it comes to the installation of AIS units on industry vessels, it´s up to each company how transparent they wish to be. Some prefer to keep information to themselves, as a privacy matter. Privacy isn’t a concern for Sea Quest – because we are more concerned about the safety aspect. The safety aspect far outweighs the benefit of keeping that information for yourself (position of the boats, in relation to other boats). So I would really encourage the fishing industry to take up AIS units.  As for the government, I think the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji could look at implementing mandatory use of AIS units on all Fiji flagged vessels on the vehicle of safety. This could also be a back up surveillance for fisheries. WWF should continue to support pro-active fishing companies. It’s great that funding support has catalysed this happening. There are plenty of other companies like us that care about fisheries resources, and would like to see their efforts more broadly represented.

Q: What do you think are the greatest market challenges to overcome as a fishing company nowadays?

Blu: I think variability of catch and meeting market demand is the biggest operational challenge we are faced with today. However, the push for certified sustainable fish products is fast becoming a prerequisite in some markets and surely other developed markest will follow the trend of sourcing from sustainable fisheries. With MSC certification, WWF´s Smart Fishing Initiative and other initiatives planned for the future such as the Electronic Sea Quest maximise their potential by taking the lead and being at the coalface of implementation, as these products are incorporated into the management of the resource.

Q: What are the next steps?

Blu: This is just a starting point for the Sea Quest, the industry and WWF. Support from NGOs is improving and so is industry acceptance of NGOs. It´s another step in a constructive dialogue to bridge the gap between the industry and conservationists. Our sea provides precious fish resources for our people. Fishing activities generate jobs and economic multipliers. They need to be managed together, in a sustainable way – taking into account both views. Exploitation of the resources needs to be equal and justified. There needs to be a right balance in the exploitation of these resources. WWF recognises the value of this resource for the Pacific Islands taking into account all view points.

© Patricia Mallam, WWF South Pacific