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Financing the Transition to Sustainable Fisheries

April 2, 2012

From a short new article in Marine Policy:

To accomplish ecosystem level conservation needs, the positive trend towards sourcing only sustainable seafood must be complimented by a more holistic, or ecosystem-based, suite of measures.  These include reducing  fishing  effort  to  align  with resource availability, fair and equitable rights based management, and ecosystem protection (e.g., reserves, bycatch reduction) in the context of spatial area management. In addition, to realize the  benefits  of  market-based  approaches,  there  must  also  be rigorous  fisheries  improvement  plans  that  help  fisheries  meet the standards of eco-label certification.

Not surprisingly, there still remains the problem raised by two critical and  long-standing  questions:  who  bears  the  burden  of costs and how will the transition to a fully sustainable fishing industry be financed?  It is often believed that it may be impossible to bridge the gulf between depleted and recovered fisheries without incurring significant social and economic hardships. This alone acts as a powerful disincentive for change and can even create active resistance against fisheries reform.

And so the authors recommend a sort of IMF for bankrupt fisheries called ‘FIRME’.

Following  Rands  et  al.,  the  question  of  how  to  create  the necessary enabling conditions required of a ‘‘financial institution for the recovery of marine ecosystems’’ (dubbed ‘‘The FIRME’’) was  explored.  In  considering  this,  an  essential  function  of  the FIRME would be to incentivize the implementation of long-term sustainability measures; for example, by guaranteeing financial security   for   participating   fishing   and   associated   enterprises through the recovery period (restricted fishing phase), or during periods of reduced access to resources when new measures are adopted.  Long-term  goals  for  a  given  region  would  be  set  in accordance  with  science  and  management  measures  for  associated long-term sustainability targets would be implemented as a condition of investment capital. The capital would be in the form of loans, granted by the FIRME on acceptance of a business plan and  ‘secured’ against  either  the  projected future  value  of recovered fish stocks, or against fishery access ‘rights’ assigned to the involved fishers. Repayment of the loan plus interest would only occur when a predetermined level of profitability is reached following the resumption of fishing as advised by science. Profits accrued after loan maturity would be re-invested back into the FIRME, allowing it to support  future  conservation  efforts  and provide a financial buffer to support industry through any future recovery periods.

They suggest a number of possible fund sources, leading with a suggestion to finance a fishery transition with money originally going to that fisheries subsidies (e.g. subsidized fuel, subsidized insurance, boat and dock construction, monitoring costs, etc).  Makes sense that governments could save quite a bit of money on subsidies by reducing them or ending them entirely.  But I think it would be a monumental feat to have a government set aside future subsidy money for fishery reform.  It would be political firestorm and quite tricky with the books as there are typically a great many funding streams.  Maybe once a country has gotten its reforms rolling it could invest money already saved?

Rangeley, R., & Davies, R. (2012). Raising the “Sunken Billions”: Financing the transition to sustainable fisheries Marine Policy, 36 (5), 1044-1046 DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2012.02.020

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