Indonesia-based fish processing and export company PT Primo Indo Ikanprepares snapper for export.
Bali Indonesia-based fish processing and export company PT Primo Indo Ikanprepares snapper for export. © TNC Indonesia Fisheries Program

Newsroom | The Nature Conservancy

Rapidly Growing Number of Seafood Companies Join The Nature Conservancy to Save Indonesia’s Snapper/Grouper Fishery

BOSTON—Snapper, one of the most popular fish fillets ordered in US restaurants, is often anything but snapper when it shows up at your table, according to one investigation released earlier this month. But even real snapper comes at a cost: Flaky, whole fillets that fit attractively onto one’s dinner plate are usually sourced from immature fish harvested before they could reproduce. And that has startling implications for the health of many of the world’s marine fisheries, including Indonesia’s — the world’s largest snapper/grouper fishery. 

Seeking to help shift this trend toward a sustainable model, five companies today, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), signed an agreement Sunday at the Seafood Expo North America in Boston to avoid buying juvenile fish from the Indonesia snapper/grouper fishery, joining the ranks of now 10 major fish processors and importers that have all signed on to this growing movement.

While bigger may be better with some types of fish, the American market is currently driving demand for smaller snapper. But a market preference for these juvenile fish is impairing the long-term sustainability of the fishery. Avoiding the purchase of immature fish, on the other hand, ensures that each fish can contribute to the reproductive cycle at least once.

Earlier this year, three US-based companies—Norpac Fisheries Export, Netuno USA (the largest U.S. importer of frozen snapper) and Anova Food—made commitments to a minimum trading size for snapper/grouper. Together, such agreements will enhance traceability and transparency in Indonesia’s fisheries, and will position this fishery for formal recognition of its sustainability, such as certification to Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability standards.

“Indonesia has made significant strides in protecting its fisheries. But the real cost of consumer preference for smaller snapper and grouper in the US is quickly mounting, both for local fishing communities and biodiversity,” said Charles Bedford, regional managing director of TNC’s Asia Pacific program. That’s what makes the new commitments from these fishing industry giants to save Indonesia’s snapper/grouper stocks so powerful. By getting juvenile fish harvesting out of the supply chain, and changing the incentive system for what fishers target, we can help achieve a more sustainable snapper/grouper fishery for Indonesia—from bait to plate.”

A seafood producer of increasing global prominence, Indonesia is home to the world’s second-largest fisheries and the third-largest aquaculture sector. A key fishery for the nation is its snapper/grouper fishery: Here, an estimated 10,000 fishing vessels, from motorized canoes to large ships, catch about 80,000 metric tons annually, with an estimated retail value of nearly U.S. $350 million.

However, government assessments indicate this sprawling deep-slope fishery comprising over 100 species of snapper, grouper and emperor is in trouble: the Indonesian National Commission for Fish Stock Assessment rates the snapper/grouper fishery as fully exploited or over exploited.

“The Indonesian snapper fishery has been a mainstay of the seafood industry for fishers and processors alike for decades,” Blane Olson, managing director for Anova Technical Services, said. “Given the strong continuous market demand in the United States and the growing demand for snapper from China, it is imperative that today, we work collaboratively to ensure that all snapper are harvested sustainably, and of a size that ensures sustainable replenishment.

“Consequently, plate-size snapper fillets, which come mainly from immature snapper, are no longer acceptable as a harvestable and marketable size. To make the switch, the whole supply chain, including supermarket retail and food service markets, must also be accountable and eliminate the demand for immature snappers, which puts fisheries at risk of being unsustainable,” Olson said.

Supporters of the snapper agreement, known as a Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP), are:

  • Netuno USA Inc.
  • Norpac Fisheries Export LLC
  • Anova Food LLC
  • PT. Solusi Laut Lestari
  • CV. Bali Sustainable Seafood
  • LP Foods Pte Ltd.
  • PT. Sukses Hasil Alam Nusaindo
  • PT. Bahari Biru Nusantara
  • PT. Kemilau Bintang Timur
  • PT. Graha Insan Sejahtera

“We know that the availability of high-value fish, such as tuna and red snapper, is declining due to overfishing,” PT. Graha Insan Sejahtera, a processing company in Indonesia, said in a statement. “This is a very serious problem, not just for us as a company, but also for hundreds of thousands of Indonesians who make a living by fishing. ...We believe that we need to start and make changes before it is too late.”

Through the Supporting Nature and People–Partnership for Enduring Resources (SNAPPER) Project, TNC has collaborated with United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, local fishers and other key partners to enhance the sustainability and profitability of snapper/grouper capture fisheries in Indonesia.    

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