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Ecuador tuna sector sees brands, eco-labels as possible saviorsMonday, November 23, 2015 > 10:18:28
Eco-labels and branded products could help relieve the struggling Ecuadorian tuna sector, industry players told Undercurrent News during a visit to the processing hub of Manta.
Tuna sources reckon Ecuador tuna prices could increase on the back of lower supply related to sustainable fishing methods, as demand for eco-labeled seafood is on the rise.
"Sustainability is key to differentiate from our competitors. Also, there are markets that demand certified-sustainable tuna such as Europe, for instance," a tuna source told Undercurrent.
Last month, three major Ecuadorian tuna companies teamed up with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to implement a fishery improvement project (FIP) with the goal of achieving the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.
Negocios Industriales Real (Nirsa), Eurofish and Jadran Group -- representing approximately 25% of the national production of tuna -- signed a memorandum of understanding with WWF on Oct. 26 to implement the FIP for the improvement of the tuna purse seiner fishery.
"The effective implementation of this project will help improve the fishery sustainability in the short and medium term, establishing the basis for the MSC certification process," WWF Ecuador said.Demand for sustainable seafood continues to rise, as consumers have already spent $4.5 billion on MSC labelled products in the last two years, Camiel Derichs, European Director of MSC, said in October during a conference celebrating the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) code of conduct for responsible fisheries.
There is also scientific evidence of the price premium for MSC increasing, he said.
A study published in the UK Journal of Agricultural Economics shows that seafood products bearing the MSC logo command a price premium of over 14% compared with products that do not carry the logo.
“This implies the presence of market differentiation for sustainable seafood and the potential of the MSC’s fisheries certification programme to generate market incentives for sustainable fisheries practices,” the journal states.
Some Ecuadorian tuna players are also pinning their hopes on building a country brand that highlights the sustainability of Ecuador's tuna sector, said Gustavo Nunez, general manager and founder of tuna processor Asiservy.
"We, as a sector, are working to improve the sustainability of the Ecuadorian tuna, working with FAO and the IATTC [Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission], and backed by the foreign trade national department to implement the Ecuador country-brand," Nunez said.Since 2008, Ecuador has been implementing the so-called "Strategic Tuna Plan", requiring the association of tuna processors and exporters in order to develop a country brand, according to Ecuadorian authorities.
Potential in branded products
With falling skipjack prices hitting not only catchers, but also processors, holding a recognized tuna brand is seen a solution to offset the downward trend in prices.
"The big winners of this crisis are those tuna processors with a strong brand. Prices are never down for products sold under a well-known brand," a third tuna source said.
"Before Bolton [Group] bought Conservas Isabel [owned by Conservas Garavilla], I said to some tuna players in Ecuador: 'let's ask for a credit line and we buy Isabel in partnership, so we have a brand'. Who are going to survive in the tuna world? The companies with big brands," he said.
On the other hand, the domestic market is seen as a niche for value-added tuna products.
"Ecuador is a very mature market [for tuna], with strong brands such as Nirsa's Real or Isabel leaving little room for new brands. However, value-added products could have potential for growth," a fourth source said.