Engaging Small-scale Fishers in the Philippines in eCDT Systems Proves the Feasibility of Scaling eCDT for Municipal Fishers Regionally
Since May 2015, the USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership (USAID Oceans) has been working with public and private sector partners to design, test, and scale up electronic catch documentation and traceability (eCDT) technology in the project’s two learning sites—Bitung, Indonesia, and General Santos City, the Philippines. These pilot projects have resulted in the development of seven innovative eCDT technologies that have tracked more than four million pounds of legal and sustainable seafood products within the supply chain in Southeast Asia, representing a value of approximately US$20 million. Using eCDT to verify seafood legality and sustainability deters illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, allows consumers to knowingly purchase legal seafood products, and rewards sustainable business practices.
As USAID Oceans nears completion in May 2020, the project has subcontracted the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines, in partnership with the private technology company, Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise (FAME), to expand one of these proven eCDT tools—FAME technology for small-scale fishers—to Occidental Mindoro and Bicol, Philippines.
FAME technology relies on communication between on-board “transponders” and land-based “gateways” to collect and transmit eCDT data. Data is initially collected at the point-of-catch when the fisher taps a near-field communication or “NFC” card to the transponder, automatically capturing essential catch data such as location, captain’s name, boat name, and gear type.
The system also serves as a communication and vessel monitoring device, enabling small-scale fishers to participate in eCDT systems and establishing increased communication and safety at-sea.
As of April 2020, WWF-Philippines and FAME had established partnerships with eight processing companies and their suppliers in Bicol (Lagonoy Gulf) and Occidental Mindoro, reaching a total of 21 municipal associations. The partners had installed 60 transponders (30 in Mindoro and 30 in Bicol) and two gateways to collect and transmit eCDT data from municipal fishing boats.
The data collected are transferred to buyers or processors to ensure that the catch is legally caught, sustainably sourced, and traceable. When small-scale fishers are able to participate in the eCDT system in this way, they can more easily obtain required catch certification and Marine Stewardship Council certification, signifying that their catch is “wild, traceable, and sustainable.” As a result, these fishers have access to a broader range of both domestic and international markets, which can greatly improve their livelihoods.
The expansion of eCDT tools throughout the Philippines also has fisheries management implications. Having access to consistent, reliable, timely, and complete eCDT data allows managers to better manage fish stocks and harvest control measures, set regulations related to gear used and species caught, and enforce compliance in protected areas. They are also able to more quickly respond to emergencies by having real-time data on the location of fishing vessels.
Maps of Mindoro Strait showing where the Yellowfin Tuna was caught by the tuna handline fishers from Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. Credit: FAME
WWF and FAME didn’t just stop at installing FAME hardware. The partners are working closely with the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) regional offices in Bicol and Occidental Mindoro to train fishers on how to use NFC cards to capture data from the on-board transponders. By the end April 2020, WWF and FAME had collected 55 cards that were used to transfer eCDT data to a local processing company.
WWF also worked with BFAR, NGOs, and national stakeholders to develop “Municipal Catch Documentation and Traceability System Guidelines.” The guidelines aim to establish a data collection system that is appropriate and viable at the local government level and can serve as a tool to deter and eliminate IUU fishing, guide effective and efficient fisheries management, implement food safety requirements, and ensure seafood products can continue being sold in both domestic and export markets.
When USAID concludes in May 2020, these partners will continue their work to expand eCDT tools and systems in the Philippines and throughout Southeast Asia, and are already exploring piloting the technology in South American and other regions. This expansion has the potential to have a global impact in improving fisheries management practices, tracing the legality and sustainability of seafood products, and combating transnational crime.