By Brandon Tidwell, Manager of Sustainability at Darden Restaurants, Inc.
Overfishing isn’t just a threat to the commercial fishing industry — it results in severe repercussions for the millions of people who depend on healthy oceans for food security. As ocean health continues to decline, seafood retailers and companies of all sizes have begun to call attention to the dangers of overfishing and make bold commitments to source sustainable seafood. Why? The future of our oceans is on the line.
An impactful solution: Fishery Improvement Projects
Fishery Improvement Projects, also known as FIPs, have emerged as a collaborative way to combat overfishing through an innovative multi-stakeholder effort. These projects are unique because they utilize the power of the private sector to incentivize positive changes toward sustainability in the fishery.
Participants can include stakeholders such as producers, NGOs, fishery managers, governmental groups and members of the fishery’s supply chain. FIPs connect organizations that have previously not worked together, empowering the multiple parties to figure out how to solve a pressing social problem and ensure that the fishery has the long-term economic and scientific support that it needs to reproduce and grow. Today, we need roughly 400 FIPs to meet buyer demand for sustainable seafood sourcing, and only about 80 are currently active in the marketplace.
FIP in action: Partners come together to support the spiny lobster fishery in Honduras
As an example of this collaborative approach, the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) recently led a CGI Commitment to Action in partnership with Darden, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the New England Aquarium to address overfishing through the development of a Fishery Improvement Partnership Fund. To meet the long-term demand for FIPs in challenged fisheries and to foster ownership of conservation projects by the seafood industry, the Walton Family Foundation will work with its partners to create this fund, with the goal of leveraging philanthropic, industry and government dollars.
The NFWF will manage the Fishery Improvement Partnership Fund, and the New England Aquarium will provide additional project counsel. WFF and its partners will develop a structure for matching contributions to the fund, select projects that the fund will support and evaluate the effectiveness of the funded project.
The fund’s first FIP will support the spiny lobster fishery in Honduras, which is worth nearly $50 million in exports to the U.S. annually and provides employment to more than 4,000 people from coastal communities. It is Honduras’ most valuable wild-caught fishery, but despite its economic importance, national management strategies and weak fisheries governance have made the fishery unsustainable.
In addition, SCUBA dive fishing is a popular way to catch lobster, but it threatens divers, lobster stocks and biodiversity. As stocks decrease, fishers have to dive deeper, longer, and more frequently, which increases injuries, disabilities and mortality. Approximately 2,000 Honduran divers have been injured and over 600 have died from decompression sickness as a result of unsafe diving practices.
Together, the partners are committed to supporting the spiny lobster fishery, the management and sustainability of the trap fishery, and to improving the long-term prospects for the Honduran fishermen and their communities.
Collaboration and innovation play key roles in successful FIPs
It’s clear that in order for companies to truly make a lasting impact, they must use the power of human capital to invest in long-term projects, take action on behalf of key social and environmental issues and use their influence to catalyze change. Fisheries need more companies to step up and advocate on their behalf, and FIPs provide a mutually beneficial way to get involved.
At Darden, sustainable seafood sourcing is vital to the success of our business, and we have a vested interest in ensuring that the seafood supply remains available, affordable and meets our quality and safety standards. In addition, we believe that our resources are best used when we invest them in programs that have the power to make a tangible impact.
In order to maximize the investment from everyone involved, the use of advocacy, innovative and strategic thinking, and a commitment to collaboration are crucial to improving the lives of millions of people and preserving our planet’s precious resources.
Brandon Tidwell is Manager of Sustainability for Darden Restaurants. Brandon is responsible for the development and implementation of corporate sustainability strategies and policies across all of Darden, integrating environmental considerations into the operations, culture, and supply chain, which includes more than 2,500 suppliers in 35 countries. Brandon received his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business. He holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Baylor and a certificate in Philanthropy from New York University.