Octopuses are incredible, resilient creatures. Species resilience is very valuable for any natural resource to maintain its population at sustainable levels. Unfortunately, sustainability too often has more to do with human behavior than with any natural characteristics of fishery resources. In some cases, resilience can actually be a negative incentive to sustainable management, particularly in many developing countries where availability of financial and human resources for adequate management may be limited. 

We human beings, when charged with managing fishery resources under open-access regimes and with a tight budget, might be tempted to assume that a highly resilient species should be a low priority for management investments, as the species is genetically predisposed to continually recover its stock biomass. Therefore, fishery managers need to provide extra motivation to give octopus fisheries the attention they need, to ensure responsible management and to guarantee ongoing livelihood benefits for local fishing communities that rely heavily on these fisheries. As an additional benefit, octopus fisheries tend to be “refugee fisheries,” acting as a buffer that lowers pressure on other species while maintaining economic income flows and providing a valuable source of protein for fishing communities. 

A well-managed, resilient fishery leads to highly resilient communities and economies, as resilient stocks, when managed adequately, provide a powerful tool for transferring fishing effort away from fisheries that target less-resilient species or even overfished stocks, thus promoting their recovery. This can also help to avoid the socioeconomic impacts of more drastic management measures, such as closures, reductions of the fleet, or even a drastic increase in the minimum landing size. 

Achieving such management improvements in octopus fisheries requires companies in the octopus supply chain to act responsively within the value chain, obtaining their product by following a set of clear, transparent, and well-defined criteria that help reduce the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of sourced octopus fisheries. Such is the goal of the member companies of our Global Octopus Supply Chain Roundtable (SR). 

The companies participating in the Global Octopus SR are financially contributing to the establishment of fishery improvement projects (FIPs) in common octopus (O. vulgaris) fisheries, as well as systematically engaging their vendors in O. vulgaris origin countries, including Mauritania, Mexico, and Morocco. This is a clear example of how importers in foreign markets can use their leverage to push for sustainability improvements in a pre-competitive manner that will bring benefits for the entire group, allowing them to import large volumes of O. vulgaris that meet the sustainability demands of the US and EU markets. 

The US market also imports large volumes of day or big blue octopus (O. cyanea) from countries like the Philippines or Indonesia. This region is of geographical interest for major donors such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as for many US-based philanthropic foundations that support seafood sustainability, including the Walton Family Foundation and the Packard Foundation. Environmental NGOs, such as BlueVentures and Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), are working at the national level in these two countries to engage local octopus stakeholders in sustainability initiatives. In the Philippines, SFP’s work in octopus fisheries is framed within the Global Marine Commodities project, an inter-regional initiative that is implemented in-country in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). 

Octopus fisheries in the Philippines and Indonesia meet the three key elements that are needed to successfully launch a FIP: seed funding available to initiate improvements, engagement with national stakeholders, and technical support. These elements, combined with market interest, provide the best possible environment to start moving a fishery toward sustainability. In this context, O. cyanea seems a priori a low-hanging fruit for US-based octopus importers to align their source fisheries with market sustainability requirements by supporting the establishment of FIPs in both countries. However, even under this promising scenario, the Global Octopus SR has not been able to mobilize interest from US-based importers of O. cyanea to join sustainability initiatives. Meanwhile, improvement efforts have started in the O. vulgaris fisheries in Northern Africa and Mexico, with the support of the Global Octopus SR. 

Are the O. cyanea supply chains less responsible than the O. vulgaris ones? Are O. cyanea consumers less responsible than O. vulgaris ones? Is sustainability something that is only required or expected in high-end markets, where O. vulgaris is mostly consumed? Is sustainability an attribute of premium price products? Are there trade issues that prevent O. cyanea importers from engaging on improvement efforts?

These and other questions will be addressed in a Global Octopus SR webinar, hosted by SFP, on Tuesday, June 16, 2020, at 7:30 am PDT, 10:30 am EDT, and 4:30 pm CET. The webinar is open to octopus processors, importers, and wholesalers, as well as any other interested parties. To register for the event and learn more about the topics of discussion, please click here.