Sustainability Perspective: Momo Kochen

Sustainability Perspective: Momo Kochen

In Her Words:

1). Tell us about yourself.

My name is Momo Kochen, I currently work as the global implementation lead for Future of Fish. I studied marine science in Galway as my bachelor degree, which took me into some work in the Philippines, so, development work under the German development service. I worked in the Philippines on communication and education in fishing communities, working directly with fishermen, identifying the needs with regards to understanding what sustainability is, what fisheries management is, and finding creative ways of communicating those types of topics to the fishing communities in the Philippines. So there was a lot of engagement in communities, there was the establishment of certain types of data collection in order to be able to inform that communication better.

I completed a masters at Wageningen University on Marine Resource Management, so that brought me strongly into fisheries management. I got an opportunity through my masters to do an internship in Indonesia, where I ended up working for seven years—firstly with a private company that was exporting tuna to the US, and eventually with the establishment of a local NGO in Indonesia called Masyarakat dan Perikanan Indonesia, or MDPI. At MDPI, we worked very closely with fishing communities all across eastern Indonesia, and we basically supported small-scale fisheries, in short, to do the right thing. So that basically was supporting the supply chain, so all the way from the fishermen through to the middlemen, to the processing plants… to basically understand what the international requirements were with regards to sustainability, traceability, quality, and helping fishermen and those supply chains to improve their approaches so they could meet those international import requirements, mainly from the US but also from the EU. So that included aspects such as the Seafood Import Monitoring Program—working toward achieving standards that would meet adherence to that—as well as EU IUU regulations, MSC FIP implementation… We worked in Indonesia with a group of originally 110 fishermen on a pilot project to help those fisheries to move to FairTrade certification. So MDPI supported the very first FairTrade fishery to be certified in Indonesia. That group of 110 fishermen has now increased to about 1,000.

Now in my role at Future of Fish—I’ve been at FoF for just over one year—Future of Fish is a systems change organization, so we really focus on fisheries improvement work, but not in the typical context of having all of the work environmentally- and governance-oriented, but taking a wider systems lens—bringing in financing aspects, livelihoods, and also a very strong focus on supply chain. We currently work in Peru, Chile, Belize, and a little bit of work in Mexico. My role allows me to utilize new and exciting approaches to work with communities and stakeholders in these geographies. It’s fun and creative and a big driver of the work is the idea of finding ways to increase the value within the fishery and to create incentives for the fishers and other stakeholders to participate in the improvement process.

2). What inspired you to do the work you are doing?

I was lucky enough to get an internship in Indonesia, and that internship was basically a four-month contract for me to support a private company, Anova LLC, to establish a community-led data collection program which would collect data that would feed into a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) and which would basically support moving that fishery toward MSC certification, and would allow that fish to get recognition for being actively involved in a FIP within the US market. Within four months, I would have thought that not much is possible, but actually working in developing world fisheries you see that in a very short period lots of changes can happen. Really, a very strong sense of the need for relationships and trust building in the communities emerged over the four months. I think that four month period really inspired me to see that there’s the ability to create change within communities, and an understanding in fishing communities about what sustainability, why data is important, and that having a use for that data can really impact their participation in the program.

I have also—in the last six to eight years—managed to build a large network of NGOs, industry, and I just think that working with such a large group of motivated, hard-working people is very inspiring. There are very few people I know in the sustainable seafood movement who don’t work more than 40 hours per week, and it’s because of pure dedication to the work that they’re doing and because they have strong visions about the need for change, but also the possibility that change can actually occur. So I think in one sense it’s seeing the impact and change that can be made in communities when you really are working with communities, and the other being the people who are involved in the movement.

3. What sort of impact do you seek to have in the sustainable seafood space?

Personally, I feel extremely connected to this movement, and I do feel that on a daily basis I check in with myself: “Is the work I’m doing having an impact? How can I change the work that I’m doing to have more impact?” So, I think that because a lot of the work I have been involved with to date has really been in engaging in communities, in having communities understand what this movement is about, creating projects that include incentives for those communities to participate in this space. So I think that the impact that I would like to have is more real participation by actors in the varied seafood supply chains in this movement. For a long time I was skeptical and I wondered if this movement was really being driven by the sourcing countries, and that really the impact was not being pushed down to the producer countries. So I would like to make sure that the work that I’m involved in and the impact that I would like to achieve would be in ensuring that the producing countries are actively engaged in this process and are receiving benefits for being engaged in the process. I also feel like that a lot of work is focused on large value and large volume fisheries, whereas often the fisheries and communities which are in need of the most change are actually the small domestic fisheries. I’d like to be increasingly involved in incorporating these fisheries into the discussion and in identifying solutions which can bring benefits and incentives for these fisheries to improve.

4. What do you think are some of the greatest challenges we face in the sustainable seafood community?

There is a limited amount of money available to do all of the projects and all of the improvement work that everybody is engaged in. I say “everybody,” I mean hundreds of thousands of interested groups working in this space. I feel that at the moment we are working with a limited pot of philanthropic money and some industry investment into this space, but really in order to create the type of impact we hope to create, we need to be thinking in a more creative way about how we can get more and new types of money in this space. Otherwise, the actual improvements that we need are not going to be financed, the progress is going to be too slow in order to create the impacts we seek in the time we have.

Additionally, there’s a little bit of a disconnect between the sustainable seafood movement and the reality in the marketplace. Really we’re creating sustainable seafood to put sustainable seafood on shelves so that the consumer can pay for a product about which they know the origin, and are therefor helping to protect the sustainability of our oceans. However, I think we’re still very far removed from a time when the consumer base is willing to pay for the full cost of bringing that fish to shelf. Basically, a piece of fish arriving anywhere in the marketplace… the actual price that it has cost to produce that product is extremely high. We have a lot of issues in the supply chain, such as slavery, less emphasis on quality maintenance, illegal fish… there’s a lot of issues. The reason that a lot of these issues exist is because the end price of the produce isn’t high enough. If that product were actually valued higher in the market then maybe some of those issues in the supply chains could be removed or alleviated. We really need to move to a space where the consumer is paying a realistic price for the piece of fish that they’re consuming.

Additionally, I think in the sustainable seafood community we also could look at other industries. There are many other industries like forestry, agriculture… where they have worked through a lot of issues that we as a sector, as a movement, are encountering. I think the approach of reinventing the wheel is a challenge we face. We would be well placed to look to these other industries and take some lessons, models and approaches and apply and learn from them.

5. What role, if any, did the Seafood Summit Scholars program play in your professional evolution? Did it impact or support your work?

I had the great opportunity of attending the SeaWeb Seafood Summit in New Orleans as a Summit Scholar. Having mentors assigned to me was, first of all, extremely inspiring. MDPI, where I worked at the time, was a very small Indonesian based organization. It is clear that that organization has grown and become quite strong, and a large reason for its growth and success is because it has always had an international reach. Even though it was in the communities in Indonesia, working with individual fishermen, it also had an international reach, and part of that international reach were opportunities such as the one I was given to be a Summit Scholar. So engaging internationally, understanding what the global conversation was around sustainable seafood, making contacts, having discussions about FIPs and approaches in other countries, incentives and ways of working with fishermen and so on, was a very beneficial aspect of being at that SeaWeb Seafood Summit for me.

I have been to various other SeaWeb Seafood Summits and every year it’s very important to have these conversations, to create collaboration and to create connections with other people in this space. I think we have so much more to collaborate for than we do to have competition with each other. Of course, NGOs often feel like we’re scrambling for the same money, but really by working together and collaborating we have a much better way of achieving all of our individual objectives. So spaces like the SeaWeb Seafood Summit have always been the opportunity to make and strengthen those connections, to spend time both in a professional environment during conference events, but then also in those three or four days that are allocated to really create stronger bonds between organizations and individuals, and to be able to take those bonds further into your work, and to be able to call on people throughout the year to ask for advice. So to relate that back again to my work at MDPI… we were a young organization with a lot of young and relatively inexperienced people. So having that ability to connect with international experts and be able to reach out to them during and after the conference was probably the most important point for me.

6. What advice would you give to others who are just breaking into this field?

I would advise others breaking into this field to, first of all, be prepared to work hard. There is a lot to do, and you really do need to have passion to keep going because it is hard and tiring work. But, in the end it’s inspiring and very rewarding. Spend a lot of time building a strong network, which I think is key to moving things forward in this space. Having a strong understanding of the basic components of the seafood movement, whether that be the various market initiatives like MSC, like FIPs, and understanding traceability, is very important. But, I also think it’s very important to engage and interact with industry. At the end of the day, this whole sector is based on the fact that there are fish being extracted, moved through supply chains, and sold to an end consumer. We need to realize that the industry will be there whether the NGOs come and go. So really understanding how industry work and identifying positive and effective ways of working with industry, I believe is a strong way to make change.

7. What’s your favorite fish?

I am going to say that my favorite fish is … I should have an answer for this because I’m asked this quite regularly. I think I change my mind every time. I am going to say that my favorite fish is, for today, the whale shark. Why? Because it’s the biggest and because it’s not so long ago that I saw one face-to-face underwater and it was very impressive. It really put into perspective just how immense and amazing the ocean is.

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