Recently, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced The Vibrant Oceans Initiative that will provide $53 million in grants over five years to revitalize marine fisheries in developing countries. This is welcome news. Especially interesting is their decision to support new approaches for financing fisheries reform through the impact investment group EKO Asset Management Partners.
Impact investing to solve social and environmental problems is not new, but the idea of using this to support reform in the fisheries sector is innovative. The basic premise is that if over-exploited fisheries can be put back onto a sustainable path, fish yields will increase. This should mean that financial returns to the fisheries should also increase. If deals can be structured so that investors share in the returns, every body wins.
It’s a seductive idea, but not without challenges. Reforming fisheries is often difficult and the pathways to achieving success are rarely straightforward. This is particularly true for developing countries where most fisheries are characterized by large numbers of small-scale fishers for whom alternative livelihoods are scarce.
It may well turn out that this investment model is best suited for supporting reform in larger-scale fisheries. Reform in this sector is challenging enough, so progress will be welcome. But, it will be interesting to see whether investments can also be structured to support equitable reform for small-scale fisheries.
One pre-requisite for success in the small-scale sector will be the availability of early-stage funding. Investments will need to be made to support the essential and time-consuming social and political processes of stakeholder engagement needed to secure reforms. Recognizing that the outcome of such processes is highly uncertain it will require investors with a strong appetite for risk.
Given that small-scale fishing supports over 90% of the world’s fishers and supplies more than 50% of the marine catch innovative approaches for this sector are especially welcome. I applaud Bloomberg’s new initiative and hope it will prove effective for fisheries, both large and small.