Ashtamudi Short neck clams becomes the first MSC certified fishery in India
by Vinod Malayilethu
Sustainable fisheries in the developing world have taken a significant step forward recently with the certification of India’s first clam fishery in the Ashtamudi estuary in Kerala. Achieved through the efforts made by WWF-India, the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and the Kerala State Fisheries Department, working with the local fishing community, the certification is a milestone in Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in India, and Ashtamudi short neck clam fishery is only the third fishery in Asia to have received this recognition.
Ashtamudi Lake, a Ramsar Wetland of international importance, is the second largest estuarine system in Kerala. It has extensive mangrove habitats harbouring nearly 90 species of fish and 10 species of clams. The clam fishery in Ashtamudi dates back to 1981 and supports the livelihoods of around 3000 fishers involved in collection, cleaning processing and trading the clams.
The growth of Ashtamudi’s commercial fishery was driven by demand from Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s. By 1991, the catch peaked at 10,000 tonnes a year, but declined 50 per cent in 1993 due to overfishing. A closed season and mesh size restrictions for nets were introduced, along with a minimum export size and a prohibition on mechanical clam fishing. These measures showed immediate effects, and the clam fishery has sustained landings of around 10,000 tonnes a year for the past decade.
The sustainable practices of the fishers made this fishery a prime candidate for MSC certification. WWF-India has been collaborating closely with the Kerala State Fisheries Department, researchers at the Molluscan Fisheries Division of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and the fishing community since 2010 when the fishery undertook a pre-assessment for MSC certification and subsequently embarked on an improvement phase to meet requirements for certification.
“WWF-India initiated the MSC certification of the Ashtamudi short-neck clam fishery in 2010 recognizing the possibility of bringing in global sustainability standards for the benefit of conservation and local livelihoods. We are very pleased to see the culmination of these efforts with the recognition of India’s first MSC certified fishery”, said Mr Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India.
As part of its preparations for MSC assessment, Ashtamudi clam fishers formed the Village Clam Fishery Council to develop management measures and officially represent the fishery at regional and state level. Certification of the fishery demonstrates the power of collaboration between partners and the importance of grass-roots activism of fishers to protect the environment and their livelihoods.
Mr David Agnew, MSC Standards Director said: “The MSC programme is designed to be accessible to all fisheries that are managed sustainably regardless of their scale, size, type or geographical region. But it is also the world’s most rigorous, science-based standard for sustainable seafood. We are extremely pleased to see this small-scale fishery become the first in India to be certified to the MSC’s global standard for sustainable fishing. It will be an important addition to the growing number of developing world fisheries that are demonstrating their sustainability through the MSC’s certification programme.”
The achievement of MSC certification will mean the implementation of measures to ensure that this valuable resource is not overfished and its ecosystem is protected. It also opens up the scope for other fisheries in India to work towards MSC certification that will enhance conservation and sustainability of the resource while providing greater economic returns.
“Certification will open up new markets and will ensure that sustainable fishing methods are practiced in the fishery. It also demonstrates the importance of scientific inputs in managing fisheries,” said Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, Director, CMFRI.
Ms Leena Nair, Chairman, Marine Products Export Development Authority, said: “I congratulate Ashtamudi fishermen involved in clam fisheries, WWF and CMFRI. MSC certification for Ashtamudi’s clam fishery is a major milestone. I am sure many other fisheries in India practising sustainable operations will come forward to enter the MSC programme.”
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an international non-profit organisation set up to help transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis. The MSC runs the only certification and ecolabelling programme for wild-capture fisheries.
Globally, over 300 fisheries are engaged in the MSC programme. Together, fisheries already certified or in full assessment record annual catches of close to ten million metric tonnes of seafood representing over eleven per cent of the annual global harvest of wild capture fisheries. Certified fisheries currently land over seven million metric tonnes of seafood annually – close to eight per cent of the total harvest from wild capture fisheries. Worldwide, more than 19,500 seafood products, which can be traced back to the certified sustainable fisheries, bear the blue MSC ecolabel.