Over the years, the fishing industry has struggled with various problems such as overfishing, degradation of coral reefs, unsustainable fish feeds, and climate change. These problems can be attributed to different reasons such as increase in demand due to the positive effects of seafood for health, general population growth, ocean pollution, and the lack of awareness in current fishing practices. If these practices continue, there will be no seafood at all by the year 2048; furthermore, to make a bad situation worse, the rate of degradation has only intensified in recent years.
Beau Perry, an MBA graduate in Sustainable Business from Presidio Graduate School, saw the decline of the fishing communities and coastal ecosystems during his travels along the Baja Peninsula. In 2009, inspired by the idea of aquaculture as an alternative to overfishing, Beau formed Olazul.
Olazul is a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing sustainable livelihoods in balance with healthy ecosystems through the principles of ecological aquaculture. The ecological aquaculture is a framework that mixes the scientific knowledge of aquatic ecosystems experts with the social-ecological knowledge of the coastal communities engaged in aquaculture. This results in economic, environmental, and social benefits from producing seafood in a way that is good for humanity and our oceans. This framework helps businesses produce high-quality seafood, and become more economically stable. It also encourages high-quality research on fisheries, supports innovative solutions driving change in the aquaculture sector, and provides a way for communities to continue applying and deepening their knowledge of local ecosystems.
The model behind Olazul resembles that of an incubator in that it helps develop skills and create economic opportunities for fishermen to ensure the long-term sustainability of their ocean-based livelihoods. The organization runs projects around the world but each targets the most destructive activities and creates alternative production systems through aquaculture. For instance, one project is in the sustainable livelihood development of ornamental fish in Indonesia. Rather than destroying corals with cyanide fishing, coastal communities protect them as a way to grow fish for the aquarium trade. This project will reinforce ecological conservation and provide employment opportunities for both men and women.
Climate change and human activities such as overfishing and unsustainable development have severely impacted 95 percent of Indonesia’s coral reefs. Introducing alternative livelihoods helps reduce the vulnerability of Indonesians to food security problems where reefs have deteriorated and can create incentives for protection – or even restoration – of coral reefs. With the right traceability mechanisms, trading ornamental fish can also provide an opportunity for sustainable economic development in the region.
This is one of many projects that Olazul is undertaking to create new economic pathways to end destructive fishing. Other projects, such as innovating an open-ocean method for shrimp production with no negative environmental impacts can certainly help the industry move in the right direction. Most of these projects currently run on a relatively small scale. If proven to be successful, Olazul’s efforts in Mexico could then be easily replicated in other parts of the world.
Olazul’s way of approaching the problem is not simply through providing training or equipment to fishermen, but also teaching them about sustainable fishing and the importance of setting aside conservation areas to let fish stocks rebound. All together, these activities can help restore the marine environment and are profitable for the community. Olazul measures the impact of the projects through community perspectives, economic targets, and ecological indicators.
One measure of success is employment. The project for ornamental fish in Indonesia has the potential to employ both women and men from coastal communities across the region. Another measure of success is cost-effectiveness. Olazul’s new Fishmeal Alternatives project improves the efficiency of shrimp aquaculture, where 60 percent of expenses are associated with feeding the shrimp. On top of the high cost, shrimp feeds currently on the market rely heavily on fishmeal. Grinding up fish to feed to shrimp is inherently unsustainable. Olazul’s idea is to use waste from the seafood processing industry, like the guts and other less palatable parts of squid or shellfish, and process it into shrimp food. This would lessen the amount of waste that is often thrown back into the ocean and improve the sustainability of farmed shrimp.
From the community’s perspective, the benefits go beyond higher employment, the increase in household income and more food security – it creates opportunities to leave a healthier, more productive marine environment for their children.
The future of the world’s fisheries does look bleak, if you look at current conditions and trends. However, if some of Olazul’s ideas were replicated around the world, there is a chance for future generations to have access to the amazing things that the ocean has to offer.
By Marcela Aristizabal, Ruichun Hu, Yafei Lin, Jankiel Rosenwald, Yudha Saleh, Karl Teien. The authors are Master of Social Entrepreneurship candidates at Hult International Business School.