Socially responsible fishing is the goal of an ambitious plan that aims to bring, in a value chain, the fishing resource from the moment of capture to the consumer’s plate.
Is it possible to build responsible sustainable fishing practices that are also lucrative for the community? The answer is a resounding yes. And that affirmation comes from an association of fishermen from the municipality of Bahía Solano (Chocó) that in 2008 founded the company ‘Red de Frío’.
The purpose of the four associations (Las Gaviotas, Pez Bahía, Maná and Sabor a Mar) that made up the company was and remains the same: to participate in the chain of commercialization of responsible fishing from the moment of capture of the fishing resource until the end consumer.
Undoubtedly, it was a challenge and a change in the mentality of artisanal fishermen because it meant changing their fishing gear and doing the activity in Exclusive Zones of Artisanal Fishing (ZEPA).
It also meant replacing the old meshes, chinchorros, trawl nets and cast nets, by more selective gear such as hand lines or hooks that allow more responsible fishing and promote the sustainability of the resource.
For this purpose, the “Red de Frío” network received financial support from Fondo Acción and Conservación Internacional and the technical support of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (AUNAP) and the MarViva Foundation, which made it possible to take the first steps towards responsible fishing. However, there was a need for an extra link in the chain, a commercial partner that would commit to buy the production of the network. Thus, to close the alliance, the Wok restaurant chain was associated, formally initiating the EcoGourmet program.
For Francisco Mesa, Director of Sustainability at the Wok restaurant, these seven years of commercial relationship with Red de Frío have been beneficial for both parties and a process of mutual learning. “The alliance has helped us by strengthening our entire productive and commercial scheme, and that ultimately results in obtaining a better product for the end consumer.”
“This experience has been very enriching because we have achieved the inclusion of fishermen and their families throughout the value chain and, in turn, responsible fishing practices have been implemented,” assured Antonio Olaya, president of Red de Frío. To date, Red de Frío produces 156 tons of fish per year and has an agreement with six restaurant chains.
The program has been so successful that in January of last year, AUNAP, with support from Fondo Acción and Conservación Internacional, initiated the second phase of the EcoGourmet project, where a call was made to which 27 associations of fishermen from the Pacific ocean presented themselves; giving priority to those associations that had not received support from any entity and that had the legal and technical requirements.
“The projects we saw printed on paper did not make much sense, since those who wrote them were people with little access to education but with a demonstrated interest. Once we visited the project in the field, we realized the potential they had and that they deserved to be among the finalists, “pointed out Oscar Caucali, a specialized professional from AUNAP.
In the end, five associations were favored (Piqueros of Bahía Solano, Aspepu of Purrinchá, Coomulpesab of Buenaventura, Esfuerzo Pescador of Iscuandé and Pinpesca of Buenaventura) to which a capital of 60 million pesos was contributed, in order to improve their processes and improve the infrastructure, according to the need of each association. Likewise, in Bogotá they were given training in business, administrative and accounting management and, in Buenaventura, workshops on good fishing practices (fishing and benefit of the resource).
“With this comprehensive training, what we want is to dignify and make visible the work of the artisanal fisherman and, in passing, offer the end consumer a quality product, guaranteeing that the fish they are consuming comes from a responsible capture”, Caucali points out.
To ensure a commercial partner that will buy the product there was a call for restaurants, in which these were favored: Canoa Taberna Japonesa, Grupo DLK (Casa, La Brasserie, Di Lucca and Salvopatria), Minimal, Bruto, El Bandido Bistró and Pica de Cali.
The third phase of the program began in 2018 by linking new associations of fishermen from the Caribbean region and, with such acceptance, that new foundations and organizations are analyzing the possibility of joining the program as cooperators or active members of the chain.
The bet is for an increase in the number of parties involved in the EcoGourmet program and, as happened with Red de Frío, the new companies are able to reach more restaurants and even the international market in the future, but always with the same objectives: high awareness of responsible fishing, food sovereignty and sustainability of fisheries resources.