Environmental Defense Fund project receives California’s ‘highest environmental honor’

January 23, 2013
Jennifer Witherspoon, jwitherspoon@edf.org, 415-378-1985


(SACRAMENTO, CA —January 23, 2013) Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was awarded with the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for its sustainable fishing loan project, the California Fisheries Fund during a ceremony last night at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters. EDF was joined at the awards ceremony by fisherman Steve Fitz, a California Fisheries Fund loan recipient.  

“Increasingly, Americans want locally-caught and environmentally-sustainable seafood,” said Phoebe Higgins, Director of the California Fisheries Fund.  “Fishermen need financing to transition to more sustainable fishing practices. With the California Fisheries Fund, we’re supporting fishermen to improve the profitability and sustainability of their fishing operations.” 

At stake is California’s highly-valued ocean economy—worth $43 billion and contributing more than 474,000 jobs to the state, according to a 2010 study by the National Ocean Economics Program. Commercial fishing landings statewide peaked at over 900 million pounds in 1981 and by 2005 had declined to 297 million pounds due to overfishing and misguided regulation. As catches plummeted and fishing costs rose, banks in California were increasingly unwilling to extend loans to fishermen. The California Fisheries Fund was started in 2008 to help West Coast fisheries transition to sustainable and profitable fishing.

In 2011 a new sustainable fishing management program went into effect for more than 60 species of  West Coast “groundfish” – fish like sand dabs, sole, flounder and cod - that gives fishermen a secure quota share of the overall catch. The new system ‘righted the fishing management ship,’ giving fishermen the right to catch a certain amount of fish each year and the responsibility to not exceed it. Unlike the older management system, catch shares give fishermen a direct investment in the fish stock because as fish populations rebound, the value of their shares grows.

Environmental sustainability is improving under catch shares and with the help of the California Fisheries Fund, as a 2012 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cited a dramatic reduction in bycatch (unwanted fish or other marine life) and discards after catch shares implementation. Under the new catch share program, fishermen have time to fish more carefully and when weather and prices are best. As a result, they can bring in higher quality fish for a higher price. Statewide fisheries landings are improving in California, up to 438 million pounds in 2010, according to the latest numbers from the National Ocean Economics program. 

Fishermen need financing to switch to fishing vessels and gear that minimize habitat and fish damage and to target the most abundant species of fish and to avoid threatened species. The CFF makes loans available to fishermen who are a part of the groundfish catch share management program, as it provides confidence that the fisheries are being managed sustainably. Fishermen’s catch share quota can also be used as collateral for a California Fisheries Fund loan. 

The California Fisheries Fund has awarded 14 loans totaling nearly $1.7 million to 11 borrowers, providing fishermen with promising business opportunities to market fresh, local and sustainable seafood. Loans have been given to fishermen like Bill Blue in Morro Bay who used the funds to replace his more than 100 year old boat to make safer, more efficient trips to support employing his sons and improving his bottom line. Wild Planet Foods in McKinleyville, CA was also the recipient of a loan which it used to help process and market fresh, sustainable seafood. 

The most recent CFF loan was awarded a loan to Steve Fitz to catch groundfish in Half Moon Bay, California. With his California Fisheries Fund loan, Mr. Fitz was able to secure the extra financial assistance he needed to buy his uncle’s boat, the “Mr. Morgan,” and start his fishing business. The loan has not only helped Steve Fitz grow his business but also gave him the opportunity to continue his family tradition of having the only commercial fishing operation in the United States that uses Scottish Seine gear, an eco-friendly fishing technique that gently herds fish into the path of light-weight nets without dragging heavy and destructive gear on the ocean floor.  

“My loan from the California Fisheries Fund has benefitted me in several ways and for that I am grateful,” said Fitz. “It’s allowed me to purchase my boat, start my business, preserve my strong family fishing heritage, upgrade my fishing equipment and bring a higher quality and sustainable product to the dock.” 

The Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) pays tribute to individuals, organizations and business that have successfully achieved measurable environmental and economic outcomes in preserving the state’s natural resources through innovative partnerships. Award recipients are chosen in different categories based on their success in results, transferability/scalability, environmental conservation impact, economic progress, innovation and uniqueness, pollution prevention, public health and environmental justice. 

# # #

Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on our Oceans Twitter and Facebook, and follow our EDFish blog.