By Mark Godfrey

Simone Pesu helped to found Sustainable Fishery Trade, a Lima-Peru-based social enterprise dedicated to fair trade in artisanal fisheries, in 2016.

Pisu, an Italian marine biologist, started SFP with the twin goals of getting a fairer price for fishermen and training them in sustainable practices. Ultimately, the company’s goal is to connect Peruvian artisanal fisheries with end-buyers, including restaurants, so they get a better price for their catch. Pisu believes this will lead Peru’s fishermen to become to dedicate themselves to more sustainable practices and to preserving marine ecosystems. 

The company has connected fishermen with restaurants in Peru, a market of 32 million people, and now wants to do the same in Chile. SFT is also currently seeking high-value clients in China, but is finding it difficult to establish the most appropriate distribution channels. Peru maintains a huge seafood export trade with the bulk of it shipped as fishmeal, in particular to China. Alongside a huge presence of Chinese mining and logistics companies in Peru, Chinese buyers have also been sourcing premium species like sea cucumber – often from black market sources – from Peru, with consequences for the continued sustainability of Peru’s artisanal fisheries.

SeafoodSource: Can you give some details of the species that you are keen to introduce to China’s market? Besides sea cucumber, are there other species you will also focus on?

Pisu: We don’t work with sea cucumber. This because there doesn’t exist a legal framework to harvest the product in a sustainable way. We would like to introduce other kind of species like razor clam or scallops or giant squid, among others, to the China market. These species ensure the income of many artisanal fishermen families.

SeafoodSource: Do you think a social enterprise or fair trade approach to sustainability is as effective as a certification scheme like the Marine Stewardship Council? Which is more important: certificaion or a fair price to the fisherman?

Pisu: I think so! I think that the MSC certification system doesn’t work for artisanal fisheries. A fair price, together with a relationship built on trust could be more effective than any certification.

SeafoodSource: What are the main challenges of selling to China?

Pisu: The market in China seems to be a big black hole. It is really difficult for us to understand what kind of trading channel to trust. I think that probably the best way to understand the market is by going there to see closely how the market works. The language is another challenge and a barrier in order to create relationship built on trust.

SeafoodSource: What are the opportunities or advantages of selling your products to China? Better prices?

Pisu: The China market is a huge opportunity that we need to look at. This because it will represent 40 percent of global consumption of seafood in the world in the [coming] years. In the case of Perú, there is a good trade relationship between both countries due to recent agreements. China and Peru have a free trade agreement that both countries signed in 2011 and ratified last year.

SeafoodSource: Are you planning to travel to China to seek new customers or markets?

Pisu: Not in the short-term, but we would like to apply to an accelerator in Norway that [is being offered], with the opportunity to scale in China. If we win the contest, probably we will be able to do some exploration of the Chinese market.

SeafoodSource: Which accelerator program?

Pisu: The program is Katapult Ocean. We are keen to replicate our [Peruvian] business model in Chile. This mean that we will connect Chilean artisanal fishers directly with high-end restaurants in Santiago.

SeafoodSource: There has been a lot of foreign investment in Peru from China, Japan, and other fishing nations. Has there been much investment in aquaculture? Is this changing?

Pisu: The Peruvian government is implementing a national policy to develop the aquaculture sector but is just at the beginning of the process. The aquaculture focus is mainly on scallops, shrimp, and trout. Recent efforts are focusing on Malaysian shrimp and paiche [Araipama gigas] fish. There are other initiatives to close the technological cycle of other species such as the Peruvian grunt, the pink clam, and other important commercial species.

For that, a brand-new innovation program in fishery and aquaculture, financed by the World Bank, has the important goal of developing other technology for aquaculture. Based on this, I guess that several investments could arrive.

Some Chinese companies are behind farming operations that can only be granted to the artisanal fishery communities, [which] isn´t so legal.

SeafoodSource: Do you expect Peru to expand production of shrimp in the way that Ecuador has done to supply Chinese demand? Is that what the Peruvian government wants?

Pisu: The Peruvian government is strengthening the [entire] aquaculture sector. However, there are several technological barriers that could be overcome through the new innovation program.

SeafoodSource: Wouldn’t it be easier to work directly with a Chinese partner such as a seafood importer or a big online player like Alibaba, which buys seafood directly from around the world for sale on Tmall.com in China?

Pisu: I firmly believe that the seafood market is based on trust. A big player like Alibaba, if it doesn’t apply a transparency and traceability policy that backs a company versus the buyer, doesn´t represent the best channel. In my opinion, the best channel may still be the traditional one. This will involve visiting the place, probably with someone who knows China and can build relationships based on person-to-person deals.

SeafoodSource: How do you fund SFT activities? Do you take a percentage of the sales value or do you rely on funds from donors?

Pisu: Our company applies a business model based on revenues. We take a percentage in each sale. But we also look for funds from donors for trainings and other kinds of project to improve the quality of food to support the development of artisanal fisheries.