Q&A with Momo Kochen

With almost 10 years of experience, predominantly in small scale fisheries, and with a focus on traceability and improved data systems, Momo has successfully supported the implementation of Fisheries Improvement Projects, has worked to implement the world’s first Fair Trade USA Wild Capture Fisheries certification process and has coordinated national and regional policy and fisheries management initiatives. Momo brings a practical and inclusive approach to 'on the ground' fisheries interventions and believes that this is the way to create sustainability within projects and ownership by stakeholders. Momo has an MSc in Fisheries and Marine Resource Management from Wageningen University and a BSc Marine Science from the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Q: How did you find your way into marine issues? Why seafood?

The most memorable driver from my childhood was a large fish tank in my grandparents’ house which I was fascinated with from a young age. My parents raised me on an organic farm so while I appreciated sustainability and environmental aspects from a young age I needed to rebel and do something different; I’d look to the ocean rather than the land! I studied marine science and then marine resource management and that brought me on a path to fisheries management and seafood, especially in the context of Southeast Asia and the complex supply chains that reach from there across the globe. 
My main focus to date has been on the development of small scale fisheries and making it possible for them to engage in these global supply chains, certainly a challenge but one which has kept me hooked.

Q: What have been some unexpected hurdles in working in the seafood industry?

As a scientist, I typically would rely on data to make decisions and develop project interventions towards sustainability, but I have found that data is often a missing link in fisheries/seafood projects, especially in developing countries. This may mean that resource intensive efforts need to be made to first collect data before projects can move onto pressing fisheries management interventions. Unfortunately this can slow down processes and create an illusion of an industry which is not transparent nor geared towards sustainability. 
Also, unfortunately, seafood is still a very male dominated industry which sometimes makes it difficult for women to navigate their way around, but honestly this is also changing for the better in recent years. 
Having said all that, I’m extremely excited by the movements I have seen in recent years and the progress and collaboration which exists in this sector!

Q: Interest in seafood sustainability and traceability has grown in recent years. Why do you think that is?

I believe our consumer base is becoming more educated and demanding seafood (and other) products which are both high quality and environmentally and socially responsible. Traceability and the concept of ‘storied fish’ is an important aspect of this. The industry is simply responding to this need by the consumers. 
Additionally, campaigns and media exposés have been continually pushing the seafood industry towards ensuring that their supply chains are tidied up, getting rid of slavery claims, and moving towards transparency and environmental improvement. 
Finally, in my opinion, sustainability and traceability make business sense; traceability can help industry create efficiencies, both concepts require the creation of data for compliance to regulation and can be an attribute which helps achieve market access and competitive advantage. It makes sense, so after initial issues on cost and effort are solved the movement will (hopefully) keep progressing in the right direction on these topics

Q: Where do you think (or hope) the seafood industry will be in 5 years? 10 years?

Wearing my optimistic hat I would say the seafood industry will have come on leaps and bounds in 5-10 years. I think the collaboration amongst partners is the key towards faster and more successful progress, and if the various initiatives and technology developments supported globally by multiple NGOs, governments and industry are scaled and communicated adequately we will be on a very positive path. I would say that in the next 5-10 years we will be using advanced technology to support data and management initiatives in fisheries globally, which will be supporting industry and governments to ensure socially, environmentally and economically viable seafood is becoming the global norm. My hope would be that we will have found a way to ensure more equity in supply chains, especially those originating from small scale fishers in developing countries.

Q: What were you doing before you joined Future of Fish?

Until a month ago I worked with a great NGO called Masyarakat dan Perikanan Indonesia (MDPI), based in Bali, Indonesia. We worked closely with seafood industry, especially those sourcing from the small scale sector, to ‘do the right thing’. This involved working towards eco-certification, developing and implementing traceability solutions, capacity building and supporting the Indonesian government in developing management interventions, all this in a country which currently still has a predominantly open access approach to fisheries. Highlights include supporting the world’s first wild capture fishery to become Fair Trade USA certified, developing and implementing full chain traceability for small scale supply chains, being involved in research projects with international organizations and universities and, most importantly, learning to understand how industry thinks, works and what makes them tick! 
Previous to this, I worked with a US based seafood importer Anova LLC. My role there was to create and implement an information and education campaigns for fishers and communities on marine issues and management.

Q: What most attracted you to working with Future of Fish?

I think Future of Fish have a very interesting niche in the seafood movement. I like that our approach takes a systems view of the issues in developing solutions to complex fishery problems. The Fishery Development Model is innovative and I especially like the concept of creating a set of interventions specific to a fishery rather than using a ‘one size fits all approach’. 
In my previous role in MDPI, my team and I had worked with Future of Fish on several occasions and I was always impressed by their variety of approaches and by the calibre of their motivated and enthusiastic staff.

Q: What are you most looking forward to doing in the next year?

I’m looking forward to delving into the work at Future of Fish and in getting to know the team and their approaches better. After many years of work in Southeast Asia, I’m also excited about the prospect of getting to know some of the fisheries in South and Central America where Future of Fish is active. Hopefully I can bring some perspectives and ideas from my previous work which can support in creating some great new solutions to fisheries issues. 
Also, I’ve just moved home to Ireland after 9 years away and I’m really looking forward to hanging out with and properly reconnecting with friends and family.  Acclimatizing to the slightly more drearier weather that Galway has to offer over Bali is a challenge but one I’m happy to accept! The stove is certainly blazing today!