Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grant Gives Canadian Fishermen an Edge Over Their US Counterparts

The Canadian Government has awarded a $24,000 grant to the commercial fishing group, the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation, (CHMSF) to develop overseas markets for its sustainably caught albacore tuna, says a recent press release from trade group Wild Pacific Albacore. South of the border, US albacore trollers struggle against a rising tide of regulations and restrictions that threaten to wipe out the century-old fishery.

“It is encouraging to see the Canadian government supporting groups who fish in a responsible, sustainable way,” says Wayne Heikkila, Executive Director of the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA), which represents about 300 West coast albacore fishermen. The press release notes the non-profit has been denied similar government funding to effectively market its troll-caught albacore.

Commercial fishing in US waters is becoming more restrictive each year, despite it being one of the most sustainable and well-managed fisheries in the world. Instead of promoting their sustainable tuna to US and overseas consumers, the WFOA must use available funds to ensure compliance with Government regulations.

“We fish for the same tuna, in the same waters, using the same gear. This grant gives Canadian fishermen a real advantage in competitive overseas markets,” say Heikkila.
Canadian fishermen have made significant headway in their efforts to attract North American and international consumers through ongoing government support, the press release notes, while the US lags despite catching twice the tonnage annually.
Unlike the larger scale fisheries, the US albacore industry consists of small, family-run boats with one to three crew members. With rising fuel costs and tight profit margins, there is very little money left over for marketing.

Lorne Clayton, Executive Director of the CHMSF, explained that the AgriMarketing grant gave the Foundation its first opportunity to expand their marketing strategy to include countries such as Germany, France, Spain, Japan, China, and Dubai.

“We hope our Government will see the success of the Canadian campaign and take measures to support us by way of a similar grant. At the very least, stop reducing our international competitiveness through excessive, burdensome regulation and monitoring requirements,” says Heikkila.

In 2010 the WFOA and the CHMSF went through the expensive Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification process, allowing them to differentiate their albacore as a premium product. The MSC is considered the world’s leading labeling program for sustainable seafood. The certification is required by many leading retailers overseas, including UK retail giant Tesco.

Consumers outside North America, particularly in Europe, are more aware of the importance of choosing sustainably caught or ethically raised fish. “It’s really important for US fishermen to get a foothold in these markets to stay competitive,” says Heikkila.

“We believe the U.S. Government, through NOAA/NMFS, needs to do more to recognize the value and sustainability of local U.S. fish and fishermen before it disappears for good and the U.S. consumer can only find imported seafood in the marketplace,” says Heikkila.

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