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Fishers, Fair Trade and Finding Middle Ground

The goal of Fair Trade certification is to contribute to sustainable development by offering trading conditions that are transparent and equitable. One important condition is improved market access and strengthened producer organizations. In regions like Southeast Asia this goal can be hard to achieve in value chains where local middlemen play a central role in not only trading fish, but also providing fishers with access to capital, infrastructure and essential services. Despite these contributions, Fair Trade principles presume that middlemen adversely control market benefits that should accrue to primary producers. The social and economic contributions of middlemen, and the potentially dependent relationship fishers have with them, is therefore a controversial issue if Fair Trade fish is going to be marketed as a product capable of improving fisher livelihoods. In this paper, we explore the role of middlemen in the first ever Fair Trade USA fishery: handline-caught yellowfin tuna from Molucca in Indonesia. Interviews with fishers, middlemen, the local processor and those involved in Fair Trade implementation were conducted and analyzed to understand changes to the organization of the value chain and of the community by defining how middlemen contribute to the assets and capabilities of fishers. The results indicate that middlemen contribute but also control the full range of assets required to enable fishers to fulfill their value chain functions. Introduction of Fair Trade has facilitated a rapid reorganization of value chain structure in the fishery with notable impacts on fisher perceptions of the resource and the market. However, it remains unclear what this value chain reorganization means for community structure. The opportunities and challenges for Fair Trade USA fish to be an empowering force depend heavily on fisher-middlemen dynamics being adequately considered... more


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