Sri Lanka’s first ever ‘eco-recommended’ fisheries

With the support of the ILO Local Empowerment through Economic Development (LEED) project funded by the Australian government, two blue swimming crab fisheries in Sri Lanka become the country’s first ever ‘eco-recommended’ fisheries. The five-year collaborative efforts involved the local seafood industry, government agencies and fishery cooperatives.

News | 27 February 2019
On 14 January 2019, the blue swimming crab fisheries in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar in Sri Lanka were officially rated as ‘Good Alternative’ by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch programme. The two fisheries are the first fisheries in Sri Lanka and the only blue swimming crab fisheries in South and South East Asia to be recommended by Seafood Watch.

Seafood Watch is a programme of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that helps consumers and businesses purchase seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that minimize their environmental impact. Based on the assessment of fisheries’ impacts of on stocks, other capture species, habitat and ecosystem and the management effectiveness, the Seafood Watch recommends which seafood items are ‘Best Choices’ (green) or ‘Good Alternatives’ (yellow), and which ones consumers should ‘Avoid’ (red).

The achievement is a result of collaborative efforts of the seafood industry, the government, and fishery cooperatives within the framework of a five-year blue swimming crab fishery improvement project (FIP) launched in 2013. This recommendation will allow blue swimming crab fisher folks and manufacturers from Sri Lanka to access new premium markets in North America, Europe and Australia.
The key partners
- The seafood industry: Seafood Exporters’ Association of Sri Lanka (SEASL) and National Fisheries Institute Crab Council in the US (NFI CC)
- The government: Department of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources (DFAR), National Aquatic Research& Development Agency (NARA) and Sri Lanka Export Development Board (EDB)
- Fishing communities: Around 70 fisherry cooperatives, 3,000 fisher folks in the Palk Bay Fishery and 6,000 fisher folks in the Gulf of Mannar Fishery

Women and men measuring the size of crabs
The Australian government funded ILO Local Empowerment through Economic Development (LEED) project contributed to the FIP particularly on activities to strengthen the administrative, management and purchasing capacity of cooperatives whose members are engaged in blue swimming crab fishing. Men and women from these fishery cooperatives participated in awareness raising programmes conducted by the FIP. Young women from the communities were trained and participated in the data collection and assessments of fisheries, while fishermen engaged in the activities to improve fishery management.

The activities implemented to strength cooperatives’ purchasing capacity were intended to enable cooperatives to sell their members’ catches directly to local seafood processing companies rather than through intermediary agents. Direct marketing by cooperatives to local seafood processing companies enables cooperative members to receive higher prices for their catches.

Taprobane Seafood Pvt Ltd
The ILO also provided technical support to the local seafood processing industry which has a substantial impact on the employment creation and economic development. For instance the Taprobane Seafood Pvt Ltd, one of the key FIP partners from the local seafood processing industry, now employs more than 1,000 women in its primary processing centres and 300 in its factory in Dankotuwa.

Women workers at Taprobane Seafood Pvt Ltd
The FIP coordinator Dr. Steve Creech who has worked on small-scale, coastal fisheries development in Sri Lanka since 1997, indicated that the key elements to reaching the Seafood Watch recommendation include: a simple and logical project management framework based on the Seafood Watch Standard for Fisheries; active participation and strong collaboration by multiple stakeholders; enthusiastic support from the government’s department of fisheries at the national and district level; and the existence of fishery cooperatives in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar.

The members of the FIP will continue to work together to achieve the Seafood Watch’s ‘Best Choice’ recommendation by 2021 as well as further improve social responsibility and equity in the supply chains for Sri Lankan blue swimming crab. Key actions that will be implemented by the FIP, with the support of key partners such as the ILO, include:
  • Annual stock assessments and district fishery management meetings;
  • More other capture species studies and ecological impact studies in collaboration with local universities;
  • The adoption and implementation of a new regulation and export schedule for the blue swimming crab fisheries;
  • Campaigns to end destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, dynamite fishing, and night diving on reefs and
  • Actions to further improve social responsibility and equity in the supply chains for Sri Lankan blue swimming crab