Published 1 month ago.
About a 6 minute read.
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
which are contributing to biodiversity
remains a pressing issue. The surge in global demand for seafood has pushed
numerous fisheries beyond their limits. The UN Food and Agriculture
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
(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
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
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“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
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
with fellow fisheries experts Abongile
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.”
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.
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.”
Published Jan 22, 2024 8am EST / 5am PST / 1pm GMT / 2pm CET
Scarlett Buckley is a London-based freelance sustainability writer with an MSc in Creative Arts & Mental Health.