Finalist, Seafood Champion Awards for Vision

Based out of Oakland, California, Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable livelihoods for farmers, fishermen, and workers; protects fragile ecosystems; and builds strong, transparent supply chains through independent, third-party certification. Its trusted Fair Trade Certified™ seal signifies that rigorous standards have been met in the production, trade and promotion of Fair Trade products from around the globe. Recognized as a leading social venture by the Clinton Global Initiative, the Skoll Foundation and Ashoka, Fair Trade USA also provides critical capacity-building programs at origin, and educates consumers about the power of their purchase.


There is increasing momentum in the seafood industry towards greater environmental and social responsibility. Fair Trade USA’s Seafood Program bridges the gap between two global movements driving social and environmental change in global fisheries: 1) the fair trade movement, which aims to improve the lives of the working poor and to protect the environment, and 2) the sustainable seafood movement, which brings market solutions to global seafood supply chains, resulting in change on the water. Fair Trade USA’s Seafood Program, based on the Capture Fisheries Standard, encompasses a progressive social certification focused on social, economic, and environmental criteria. Our innovative model of responsible business and conscious consumption enables sustainable livelihoods for fishermen, workers, and their families around the world, while empowering them to fund improvements in their fisheries and communities via the Fair Trade Premium – money given back to fishermen for every pound of certified seafood sold.

How well does this nominee and his or her work demonstrate the qualities of the category?  

The number of people entering the fishing and aquaculture industries has doubled in the last two decades, with most new fishers entering coastal, small-scale fisheries. Because of their size, poor infrastructure, and ocean conditions, most small-scale fishermen struggle with fluctuating market prices, high fuel and maintenance costs, competition with corporate suppliers, limited access to finance, and dwindling fish stocks. They struggle to provide for their families while engaging in sustainable practices. As the exclusive third-party certifier of Fair Trade seafood products globally, Fair Trade USA’s goals are to advance income sustainability, well-being, social responsibility, empowerment, and environmental stewardship by working with small to mid-size capture fisheries and shift the seafood industry to more socially and environmentally sound practices. These goals are accomplished through 1) Certifying fishing communities globally; 2) Enrolling businesses to source in a more responsible and ethical manner; and 3) Educating consumers to shop with their values.

In what ways has this nominee positively affected, or mitigated negative impacts of, the seafood industry?

The Fair Trade Certified™ Seafood Program has made tremendous strides since its inception in 2014. Successes from the last three years include:    

  • Over 5,000 fishermen and workers (up from roughly 150 in 2014) engaged under the Capture Fisheries Standard. Fishing and labor practices improved under Fair Trade’s compliance criteria in all regions where we have a presence.  
  • Since 2014, fishermen have earned over $650,000 in Community Development Premium funds on top of the price paid for their catch. From 2015 to 2016, there was a 337% increase in premium returned to certified fishing communities.  
  • Premium funds invested in environmental and social projects to community needs. Funds have supported conservation projects, safety equipment and gear, anti-IUU efforts, educational supplies, and infrastructure improvements to landing sites, local roads and community centers.  
  • Certified products currently found in 20 leading North American retailers including Safeway, Hy-Vee, and Whole Foods Market. 


In what way do you feel this nominee’s story could inspire others and communicate successes achieved in sustainable seafood?  

A key innovation in the growth of the Fair Trade Seafood Program was the certification of the first domestic U.S. fishery – a group of scallop fishermen in New Bedford, MA. Traditionally, Fair Trade has been thought of as a solution to social and economic issues in the Global South. Fishing communities from coast to coast in the U.S. have experienced the same struggles as their global counterparts – environmental issues such as fishery closures leading to economic collapse of the community, and social issues such as an increased migrant workforce requiring a greater need for worker protections, sexual harassment complaints, and hazardous working conditions. Acknowledging “Fair Trade For All,” and recognizing that fisheries and fishing communities in our own backyard can, and should, benefit from Fair Trade certification has inspired other fishing communities around the U.S. to enter the program.

How would the work serve as a replicable model for others who want to have a similar impact?  

The Fair Trade USA seafood program believes in a holistic approach to impact, and when the social and economic needs of fishermen are assured, they will be better environmental stewards. Our Capture Fisheries Standard is a stepwise program with a low barrier to entry that focuses on continuous improvement over time, analogous to the FIP model, with the additional assurance of annual monitoring and verification. According to the Standard, 30% of the Fair Trade premium must be spent towards solving environmental issues in the fishery, and this is a key innovation in the model – fishermen can use their premium to fund improvements in their fishery that might be requirements of FIPs and/or environmental certifications. In 2018, we will replicate our model and scale our impact in collaboration with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, piloting a Fair Trade Aquaculture Farm Standard to bring our proven empowerment model to ASC-certified fish farms. 

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