I believe in US fishermen and our fisheries. My brother and uncle both worked in fish houses and on fishing docks. I have sorted fish alongside NOAA fish scientists on research cruises in the Gulf of Maine. Even now, a great afternoon for me is talking with fishermen – maybe about fishing but about everyday stuff, too.
Here’s one thing I also believe: Fishermen get a rough deal from nearly every quarter. I’ve watched them struggle with ups and downs in the economy, with regulations that aren’t working and with public opinion that casts them as the bad guys in stories about ocean declines. All the guff fishermen take is as big a pile of crap as the notion that I am interested in some kind of sell-off of New England fisheries.
There is a story being circulated in the Gloucester Times that is playing on – and distorting – very real concerns, concerns that I share, about the recession and unethical financial dealings. Although the allegations about EDF are not true, we strongly share the author's core concern: What’s the best way to evolve from today’s declining fisheries to ones that have lots of fish and jobs?
One thing we’re going to need, for sure, is money. From the fishermen’s point of view, where’s the best place to get that money? One option is government. Some places, like New England, are blessed with powerful senators who can bring home the bacon. Others aren’t so lucky. In any event, government money always comes with strings. Banks are another option. But is there anyone out there who believes fishermen are getting the best possible deal from the government or the banks? Fishermen tell us they’d welcome more choices because more choices mean a better deal.
That is why we at EDF are working with fishermen to help them establish their own funds to purchase quota. That is why we’ve set up the California Fisheries Fund to make loans to fishermen that banks won’t make. That is why we help advise the Sea Change Investment Fund that directly invests in building markets for sustainably caught fish to benefit fishermen. That is also why I will talk to anyone, anytime – including investors at the Milken Institute – about the incredible opportunity there is to work with fishermen to restore both fisheries and fishermen’s livelihood.
What I’m out there telling the wider financial community is that fishermen are good business partners. Alerting new communities of investors to the risks and potential profits of catch share fisheries increases the number of options fishermen have for the financing they are going to need to evolve their fisheries. And, obviously, the more options fishermen have, the better deal they will be able to negotiate within the bounds of the rules set up for each fishery. Defining these fishery-specific rules well is important. They can include such things as accumulation caps, owner on board, fishery association by-laws or whatever else is appropriate for each fishery.
If you hear something that strikes you as wrong here, let me know. EDF wants to get it right when it comes to helping fishermen and the industry. I want to get it right. If you have ideas about better things to try than simply more of the same that hasn’t worked over the past decades, please let us at EDF know. Our minds are wide open. There is room for improvement everywhere – including ideas EDF puts forward.
A lot needs to change (regulations, enforcement, financing, and marketing) to bring back our fishing communities. Working together and pulling in the same direction, we can do it.