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Ekofish Group twin-rigged otter trawl plaice: the fishers’ story

Ekofish GroupMeet the Ekofish Group twin-rigged otter trawl plaice fishers

In June 2009, the Dutch Ekofish Group was the first North Sea plaice fishery to receive MSC certification for its twin-rigged otter trawl. As the Ekofish Group lands 6,000 tonnes of plaice with its 13 cutters each year, this is a major step towards making North Sea plaice fishery more sustainable.  Louwe de Boer, Director of the Dutch Ekofish Group, explains what MSC means for the whole group.

Quick facts

Why we chose MSC certification

"In 2005, we decided to shift from beam-trawl fishery to twin-rig otter trawl. The high fuel price was the main reason for doing so," says Louwe de Boer from Urk. An additional and unexpected benefit was that twin-rig otter trawl, a fishing method that was fairly new in the Netherlands, landed a much better quality plaice. However, this quality did not lead to a better price, which caused Louwe de Boer to start marketing his own fish. He visited potential buyers in The Netherlands and abroad.

Only sustainable plaice in the supermarkets
Switzerland proved to have a demand for quality fish, but a major buyer announced that plaice would soon disappear from his shelves, because this fish had been on the WWF red list for a couple of years. "That was quite a wake-up call for us. We were totally dependent on plaice, as we had given up our sole rights, and now our fish was in danger of becoming unsellable. Our experience in Switzerland encouraged us to make contact with the WWF to see how we could make our fishery more sustainable."

Through the Dutch branch of the WWF, the Ekofish Group learned about the MSC program. As making the plaice fishery more sustainable was one of the drivers for the WWF, they committed their active support. The Ekofish Group started its certification process and after 16 months it became MSC certified.

“We are persuading other twin-rig fishing vessels who want to make the same changes as us to join our group. That way we can bring more MSC plaice to the market.”

- Louwe de Boer, Director, Ekofish Group

What sets us apart

"We were the first North Sea plaice fishery to obtain the MSC certification. We had to make tough decisions to come so far, for example, avoiding fragile but interesting fishing areas."

Environmental benefits of MSC certification

"We obtained the sustainability certification from MSC because we work with nets with greater mesh widths to limit the undesired bycatch. We avoid a few vulnerable areas and we respect the season. We are also collaborating with scientific research into the effects of twin-rig otter trawl on life on the seabed."

How else does MSC certification benefit the environment?

Economic benefits of MSC certification

Plaice prices have been under severe pressure for some time, but the Ekofish Group can still receive a reasonable price for its certified fish. The Ekofish Group has chosen to market its 6,000 tonnes itself. The plaice is no longer sold at auction, as is customary. "We sign our own contracts with the buyers. The market wants certainty that it can obtain certain volumes at a fixed price; we meet that need and it gives us certainty too."

Louwe de Boer is particularly pleased that the MSC certification of his fishery enables him to tell consumers that they can eat his fish with a clear conscience. "That is the biggest benefit of the MSC ecolabel."

 

How else does MSC certification improve economic prospects for fisheries?

Social benefits of MSC certification

"Twin-rig otter trawl and the ensuing MSC certification were a complete eye-opener to us. We want to spread the word and that is why we decided to cooperate with the fishery academy. One of our vessels has been converted into a fishery training vessel. Students acquire practical knowledge of a sustainable fishing method and onboard they help with the monitoring we carry out within the framework of MSC. It is an excellent learning experience for them."

Looking ahead…

"We are persuading other twin-rig fishing vessels who want to make the same changes as us to join our group. That way we can bring more MSC plaice to the market."

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The article above was written by an independent journalist commissioned by the MSC to find out how MSC certification has helped this fishery.

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