In Peru, artisanal fishing is an extremely important economic activity, but most of the fishers are “informal,” meaning they lack the proper permits and documentation required to fish. Even for formalized fishers who want to comply with all requirements, many find the procedures complex, inconsistent, and burdensome. Together, these challenges empower corrupt actors and make fishers vulnerable, for example to demands for bribes when they land their catches. This creates a broader, systemic challenge: without faith and trust in how the fisheries sector is governed, even legitimate, needed regulations for sustainable management will be seen with distrust and stakeholders will be unwilling to comply.
As one example, fishers are required to request a “departure certificate” before they sail, a process that can help control overfishing and improve safety at sea. However, in most places fishers have to spend time and fuel traveling to certain ports in order to request the certificate in person. This constitutes a major burden that leads some to bypass this requirement. In interviews during the pilot, fishers explained that it just made economic sense; one said that they offered “a ‘tip’ of 50 soles...like a fee” when they returned from fishing without the certificate; another said it was “better [just to] pay...when they stop us.”
These factors undermined both the livelihoods of fishers and the sustainability of fisheries. At the same time, however, this unsatisfactory status quo also generated significant enthusiasm for reform. WWF Peru took that opportunity.
The Marine Program at WWF Peru had been collaborating with key government ministries and fishing cooperatives for a full year prior to their TNRC pilot. Working together on “TrazApp,” an understandable and simple app that tracks seafood “from bait to plate,” WWF Peru developed trusting relationships with fishers and learned of their difficulties navigating the official requirements and the irregular practices they sometimes encountered. The team realized that TrazApp could significantly help improve the situation and reduce the opportunities for corruption that weakens the overall fisheries management regime. Supplementing this local knowledge with a rapid desk review of governance issues in the sector, the team designed their pilot and got to work.
The pilot entailed two main streams of work. On the technological side, the team had to design and build a module within TrazApp to provide fishers with the official departure certificates. The team also had to make sure that the government was satisfied that the module met their requirements, and they had to make sure stakeholders had (or gained) the capacity to actually use the module. In addition, the pilot included monitoring and evaluation efforts to more rigorously quantify the challenges and corruption risks, which produced both a baseline study and documentation of early impacts.
For the app to comply with government requirements, the team first had to understand the complex regulations governing departure certificates. This was a substantial undertaking, given the multiple agencies involved and how varied their administrative processes were. The team was able to map the processes, but it took time and close collaboration with different agencies.
Fishers were also involved in the project from the beginning, explaining their needs and expectations for the app. As one team member observed, “WWF Peru's main job is to articulate [the needs] and help create a system that is interoperable,” because “[In Peru], everyone is interested in improving things, but no one is talking to each other.” As just one example, all the government officials who participated in the baseline survey reported that the process for soliciting a departure certificate was clear, but over a third of the interviewed fishers reported that they were asked to provide additional documents and/or comply with additional requirements not included in the official regulations. Complex or poorly understood requirements created additional burdens and the opportunity for corruption (for example, asking for a bribe because the fisher cannot provide a certain document that actually is not required by law). Clarifying the official requirements for fishers and helping the government see where improvements could be made were therefore a key part of getting the technology right.
Relationships were vitally important throughout implementation. The work was only possible because the responsible government agencies trusted that WWF Peru could deliver what they promised. Even so, navigating that relationship was not always a smooth process. For example, while the app was being built, questions emerged about who would own the app, module, and data. If something changed with the collaborative relationship between the government and WWF, what would happen? The team was able to find a solution, creating an application as a government-owned backup in case the collaboration between the navy and WWF Peru ends, but satisfying the government’s concern did create some additional work and programmatic delays.
The broader government context also resulted in some challenges. Multiple changes in the presidential and ministerial leadership meant the team had to frequently re-explain, re-negotiate, and re-confirm the work. Here, too, however, the team was able to find a solution: by signing a memorandum of understanding that formalized the work, the team maintained continuity and accelerated progress through government changes.
Other contextual and relationship factors worked strongly in the pilot’s favor. For example, the fishers trade association, which has important weight in decision-making, pushed for the new module because it simplified official processes. A virtuous cycle emerged in which the trade association pushed for improvements, which encouraged the government to accept solutions that WWF identified and proposed.
As of the close of the pilot, departure certificates are in the final stages of rollout in four regions. In the first quarter of 2023, around 200 vessels registered over 600 fishing trips in TrazApp, and more than 100,000 tons of seafood caught have been registered since TrazApp’s creation. Such usage is an indication of WWF Peru’s collaboration with fishers to develop a tool that satisfies their needs; in fact, the data WWF Peru collected showed that 60% of fishers thought TrazApp would improve the departure certificate process.
From an anti-corruption perspective, it remains to be seen if some of the corrupt behaviors just shift or change, rather than disappear. Those currently benefiting from weak governance may resist or undermine improvements, and other actors may seek to replace the benefits they were previously able to extract. Corruption can adapt to closing opportunities by opening others. Of course, closing opportunities is still a good thing, and it seems clear in this case that TrazApp has reduced the opportunities for corruption around departure certificates. The key is to build on those reductions and expand and scale efforts to the wider system.
Toward that very goal, WWF Peru was able to sign a specific agreement with the Navy that will enable the departure certificate to be rolled out to the entire artisanal fleet in the country, which is more than 16,000 vessels. That agreement was only possible through WWF’s close communication and engagement with government officials that kept them abreast of positive developments and built their confidence in the module. Indeed, the “relationships” that feature so prominently throughout this case study are also key to the main lessons the WWF Peru team took from their pilot.
There is value in investing in relationships, even before specific funding opportunities emerge, and watching for “windows of opportunity.” The team already had a working relationship with the government and fishing communities when the TNRC funding became available. Especially when working on a topic like corruption, starting out from a good relationship can really help set projects up for success.
Maintaining those relationships also takes intentional work. While it is certainly not appropriate for all projects, the WWF Peru team took a collaborative approach (as opposed to more “confrontational” one), and they credit their success to that approach. They presented the baseline results separately with fishers and government officials, creating space to discuss sensitive topics such as the alleged informal payments. They also took careful steps not to alienate their partners. “The term ‘corruption’ can be a bit invasive...we handled it as ‘vulnerabilities,’” the team reflected. “It is important to go as an ally of the government...rather than supervision of its activities, conceive the project from the needs of the administered [the fishers], but also of the authority.”
Finally, one window of opportunity may open others, so maintaining momentum is vital. “When a government institution, fisher organization, or company is interested in collaboration,” the team reflected, “the key for progress is to act quickly and formalize the collaboration so that the interest doesn’t wane or diminish.” The team intentionally represented their work as an “inter-institutional alliance,” the “first pilot of much more together.”
Indeed, TNRC supported two follow-on activities that leverage the success of TrazApp’s pilot. During 2023, the team is expanding TrazApp to an additional part of the supply chain, fish processing plants, who see the app’s potential to help facilitate their compliance with export market requirements. In parallel, the team is doing more work to simplify and make accessible government processes and requirements for other aspects of fisheries management. The goal is to help fishers understand the rules they are supposed to follow, insist on following those rules if someone demands they do something illicit, and access reporting channels for any corruption, crime, or conflict. Stay tuned for further updates, expected in the final quarter of 2023.
Image attribution: © naturepl.com / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus