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Supply Chain
This App Could Be Key to Securing Fisher Livelihoods, Restoring Fish Stocks

Abalobi's easily scalable app enables traceability previously unseen in small-scale fisheries and connects fishers directly with buyers — reducing dependency on middlemen, resulting in fairer prices and ethical produce for consumers.

Our oceans and coastal communities globally face a host of looming crises — in addition to rising water temperatures and acidification, which are contributing to biodiversity loss, overfishing remains a pressing issue. The surge in global demand for seafood has pushed numerous fisheries beyond their limits. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 57 percent of fisheries are currently fully exploited, while 30 percent are over-exploited or depleted.

To appropriately respond to these crises, governments and marine scientists need to understand the full extent of the issues; yet the lack of essential data regarding catch levels and the origin of fish catches hinders their efforts. This data gap makes it challenging to recognize responsible fishing practices among those that are illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU). Even coastal communities engaged in responsible fishing lack a reliable means to document the sources of their catches — posing a formidable challenge for both conservation endeavors and the millions of individuals reliant on small-scale fishing for their livelihoods.

Small-scale fishers represent at least 40 percent of the world's total fisheries’ catch, and nearly 500 million people depend on them for their livelihoods. They are essential in providing global food security and livelihoods, and hold both social and cultural value; yet they continue to be marginalized.

Meet Abalobi

In the pursuit of mitigating overfishing, restoring depleted fish populations and safeguarding the livelihood of small-scale fishers sits South Africa-based social enterprise Abalobi. Meaning ‘fisher’ in the isiXhosa language, Abalobi’s mission is to develop thriving, equitable, climate-resilient and sustainable small-scale fishing communities through inclusion, social entrepreneurship and a data-driven approach to rebuilding fisheries.

“Coastal fisheries provide the livelihoods of millions of people. So, imagine if we could restore our fisheries and develop thriving coastal communities — that’s the theory of change with Abalobi,” Abalobi co-founder Serge Raemaekers, who has over two decades of experience working with small-scale fishers, combined with a background in Fisheries Science, told Sustainable Brands®. “How do we work around balancing social justice, economic empowerment and ecological restoration, and blend that into a package backed by technology and led by the communities themselves?”

Raemaekers founded Abalobi in 2017 with fellow fisheries experts Abongile Ngqongwa and Nico Waldeck as a nonprofit partnership between fishers and scientists. They all met in 2012 before starting their venture to support small-scale fishers, elevate their voices and importance, whilst protecting the fish stocks on which they depend.

The company’s package solution — co-designed with fishers themselves — comes in the form of mobile apps. The Fisher app allows fishers to record catch data — including species, quantity, and location — in real time, alongside the economics of the fishing activity. Recording this information promotes the accuracy of information about fishers' catches and can also provide fishery managers with timely data crucial for making informed decisions.

The easily scalable app is a world-first and introduces unprecedented traceability to small-scale fishery operations. Using the Abalobi Marketplace app, consumers can trace the journey of their seafood from the point of catch to the market — promoting transparency in a novel and revolutionary way. By connecting directly with buyers, fisheries reduce their dependency on middlemen — resulting in fairer prices for the fishers and ethical product for consumers. Raemaekers says Abalobi users have reported earning four times more revenue since using the app.

Furthermore, with Abalobi's data-collection capabilities, fishery managers can monitor the health of ecosystems more effectively and implement adaptive-management strategies that protect marine biodiversity. Authorities working with fishers can also use this data to implement quotas and restrictions — ensuring that fishing activities remain within sustainable limits, whilst protecting their livelihoods.

“We wanted to construct a tool that fishers would like, feel like they own, and would use every day to collect good quality data,” Raemaekers explains. “When fishers have an amazing digital record of their fishing activity, they can use it to fuel their status with the government — allowing fishers to realize that data is power.”

Empowering small-scale fishers

Image credit: Abalobi

Abalobi helps small-scale fishers to self-empower — fostering food and job security, economic empowerment and ecological stability. Fishers are equipped with valuable insights, knowledge and training on sustainable fishing practices, market dynamics and responsible resource management.

“About 97 percent of what goes onto the Abalobi Marketplace is from abundant species — that's pretty radical,” Raemaekers exclaims. “Usually, it’s only one aspect of the sustainability puzzle that is being fixed — the social or economic piece, perhaps — but not the ecological part: food and job security and economic empowerment. So, we've really tried over the last couple of years to tap into all dimensions — food and job security, economic empowerment and ownership along with conservation and sustainability.”

Abalobi provides a platform for sharing information and experiences between fishers — fostering a sense of community that not only strengthens the social fabric of fishing communities but also facilitates the exchange of knowledge and best practices — fostering a collaborative learning environment, and enhancing understanding of fishery management and conservation.

“Many fisheries that we work with have intergenerational knowledge of what's happening in the water; so, if we are to think about fisheries management and creating systems that are legitimate and adapted to local contexts, we have got to recognize the importance of local, ecological knowledge,” Raemaekers says.

Global recognition

Abalobi’s innovative fisheries-management solution was a 2023 finalist for the Earthshot Prize; and “Coding for Crayfish” — a short film that documents the impacts of Abalobi’s pilot with a South African rock lobster fishery — made its rounds at several international film festivals in 2023. The company currently supports 6,784 small-scale fishing community members across 12 countries and is being praised for the ease, accessibility and scalability of its technology — which requires only a smartphone to use.

“We’re well-networked and work with many organizations working in fisheries around the world. We're also working with many fishing communities. But we're still a small organization; and for us to reach millions of people, there’s still a lot of work to do,” Raemaekers states.

In the areas where Abalobi is being used, Raemaekers says that are seeing signs of fish stock recovery and a move away from IUU fishing and fishing communities are being recognized as stewards of the ocean. The company's impact on fisheries management represents a paradigm shift in our approach to sustainable fishing and enables an equitable future for fishing communities and the safeguarding of our seafood stocks.

“In five years, we will want to have a well-rounded, self-sustaining program here in South Africa on a national level — led by fishing communities connected through Abalobi,” Raemaekers says. “We want to shift the narrative — elevating the position of small-scale fishers to be the custodians of our oceans.”