Artisanal fishermen on the Saloum, Senegal (Photo: Michael Hauri)

Fair Trade: Where is the fish?

Fair trade with producers in poorer countries has been a popular and successful concept for quite some time now. Thanks to the long-standing commitment of organisations and Third World shops, most industrialised countries now offer a wide range of food, beverages and other products from the Global South at fair prices for the benefit of local producers: coffee, tea, rice, honey, bananas, nuts, dried fruit, textiles, etc.

The pioneer associations of fair trade built up a certification scheme and eventually found their breakthrough with the entry of large retailers into the fair trade business. The growing clientele should be able to trust that what is adorned with a fair logo has been produced under fair conditions.

But you still won't find hardly any Fair Trade fish on the market. Isn’t this astonishing, when considering that fish is one of the most traded products from South to North, and this trade in particular is usually more exploitative than fair?


Why no "fair fishes" yet?

Between 2004 and 2010, fair-fish set up a project in Senegal that as of now is still unique in the world: gently caught and fairly paid fish for the European market.

Unfortunately without success nor imitation so far. For the trade would like to adorn itself with fair fish - but only as long as it swims onto the shelves by itself. However, fair trade only comes about when both sides are committed. A small association cannot take on what European traders should be doing.

Other attempts to develop a fair fish trade have also failed so far. On the one hand, this is due to the special challenges regarding the quality and hygiene of fish.

On the other hand, most attempts have been dominated by "northern" requirements that hardly do justice to the informal sector of artisanal fishing in the global south. The very few fish products currently offered with a Fairtrade label are more like sultanas in the marketing of the label organisations concerned, but they do not offer a real perspective for the fishing villages.