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Our 2021 Year in Review

2021 was a year of immense growth for Fish Welfare Initiative. We doubled our budget, tripled our team size, and transitioned from theoretical and scoping research to working on the ground in India with 2 local NGOs, 1 government agency, 1 corporation, and 58 fish farms. We have also grown with our international focus: In addition to our work in India, we now have smaller-scale projects in China and the Philippines.

Growing sustainably at such a pace has brought many challenges—for instance, ensuring that all new staff are fully onboarded and ensuring that our welfare improvements are sufficiently impactful (see more below) have both at times proven difficult. However, such growth has also been immensely rewarding for our team and for our work, and we believe the metrics and highlights we include below speak for themselves, particularly the 400,000 fish whose lives we believe we improved.

2021 was also a year of reflection. Our initial programming—making welfare improvements with farmers and NGOs at a local level in India—has gained significant traction. But this approach, while it has proven immensely valuable in teaching us about Indian aquaculture and gaining broad support, in its current instantiation is unlikely to take us to the millions or even a billion fish helped that we intend to reach. To scale up to such heights of impact, our current plan involves a combination of supply-side farmer work, demand-side corporate outreach work, and governmental standards and buy-in, all built on the foundation of the farm-level welfare improvements that we are currently in the process of improving. To learn more, see our 2022 Scaleup Plan.

We are grateful to all of you who make this work possible.

Tom and Haven, FWI Cofounders

2021 Metrics and Highlights

All numbers are of January 19, 2022.

Fish Potentially Helped: ~400,000

Government Officials Met With: 18

Government Partnerships Signed: 1

Corporations Met With: 10

Corporate Commitments: 1

Fish farm ponds currently working with: 58

Staff Size (full-time equivalent): 14.75

Looking beyond the metrics, the following are what we believe are our most important accomplishments in 2021:

  • Launched Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture and expanded to 58 farms (India). In May, we launched the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture (ARA), a collective of aquaculture stakeholders that are all committed to improving animal welfare in aquaculture. These stakeholders employ and/or support farming practices that are more natural for the environment (e.g. fewer chemical inputs), more fair for the farmers (e.g. via market linkages that help fetch farmers a welfare price premium), and of course more kind of the fish. The ARA is currently comprised of 2 local NGOs, 1 corporation, and 58 farms. In exchange for the farmers committing to improve fish welfare, FWI’s local field staff support them by providing free-of-cost water quality monitoring and advising them on health and welfare-related matters.

  • Signed partnerships with 2 local livelihood NGOs (India). In the first quarter of the year, we signed MOUs with both Gramodaya Trust and Association for the Rural Development, two livelihood-focused organizations that support farmers in two of the most concentrated fish farming regions in India (the West Godavari and Nellore districts of Andhra Pradesh). In these MOUs, both NGOs agreed to work with us to expand higher welfare fish farming practices to at least 50 farms per year (each) over the coming 5 years. The partnerships with these organizations have also proved critical for building local connections and support.

  • Secured commitment with 1 corporation (India). In September, SAGE Organics became the first corporation in India that we’re aware of to publicly commit to improving fish welfare in their supply chain. This commitment came after an in-person visit by several members of our team to SAGE’s farm. While the scale of the commitment is small, we believe it sets an important precedent, one we intend to build upon in 2022. Learn more here.

  • Formally partnered with 1 Indian Central Government institute (India). In December, we signed an official partnership with the Centre for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR) to conduct a multi-year study assessing the impacts of various aquaculture practices on food safety, with a particular focus on higher welfare practices and the role of antibiotics. We will be sharing more on this developing partnership shortly.

  • Onboarded 2 new part-time staff in China and the Philippines. Following up our China and Philippines scoping reports, we have onboarded Lu Chen and Chiawen Chiang to continue our smaller-scale work in these countries. We mostly focused on relationship-building in 2021, and will shortly be sharing more about our planned work in these countries in 2022.

Welfare Standard Development

2021 also had its share of challenges. Greatest among them was the apparent lack of efficacy our welfare improvements had on improving water quality and thus improving fish lives. Specifically, although our partner ARA farmers were largely stocking at our recommended levels and applying our water quality corrective actions where advised, we did not observe improvements in water quality as significant as we expected. We take this as a sign that our current producer commitment is not comprehensive or substantive enough. In 2022 then, we plan to modify it.

Several of our staff are currently assessing the viability of modifying our welfare commitment, with an eye for both the implementability by the farmers and the impact for the fish. Specifically, we are investigating more extensive stocking densities, feed management, aeration, and pond preparation. We are currently assessing the economic implications of these improvements and will begin trialing them with some of our more engaged farmers in April.

For more information, see our 2021 Objectives and Key Results.

Operational Updates

  • Funding: Our 2022 budget is $600,000. We’ve raised $330,000 of that thus far, and are hoping to raise the remainder in the next few months. Our 2021 budget was $300,000.

  • Hiring: We expanded our team from 5 full-time equivalent staff to 14.75 full-time equivalent staff.

  • Legal Registration: We completed our 501(c)(3) registration in the US. Fish Welfare Initiative India Foundation completed its registration as a nonprofit company in India.

  • Offices: We opened two small offices in India: One in Vijayawada, another in Nellore.

For financial statements, budgets, and other information, see our transparency page.

Media Mentions

FWI was mentioned in or authored the following pieces:

Most of our team on a retreat in Goa, India.

If you have questions or feedback on any of the above, feel free to comment below. We value your feedback.

And if you work in some capacity where you would be interested in collaborating with our work, particularly if you have some India-, China-, or Philippines-related expertise, we would love to connect with you.

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