State Establishes Innovative Revolving Loan Fund for Sustainable Fishing

March 8, 2007


Dr. Rod Fujita, Environmental Defense: 510.326.6065 (cell)
Johanna Thomas, Environmental Defense: 510.703.8484 (cell) 

(Sacramento, CA - March 8, 2007) The California Coastal Conservancy today approved a two million dollar grant for the California Fisheries Fund, a revolving loan fund designed to improve the performance of ailing state fisheries. The California Fisheries Fund will provide low-interest loans to fishermen and communities to invest in innovative and sustainable fishing practices and business models. It is expected that the Fisheries Fund could be increased to seventeen million dollars through public and private investments.

“California’s action today demonstrates its strong commitment to protecting and restoring the vitality of its fisheries, coastal communities, and ocean ecosystems,” said Environmental Defense president Fred Krupp. “It’s a powerful model for how market-based tools can align economic incentives with conservation benefits, and should be replicated in other ailing fisheries nationwide.”

The California Fisheries Fund has the support of the California Ocean Protection Council which voted last month to grant two million dollars to capitalize the fund. The California Fisheries Fund was developed jointly by Environmental Defense, a national non-profit environmental organization; ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia, a community development bank; and the Sustainable Fisheries Group, an alliance of leading marine scientists, economists and ocean advocates. The fund was developed with the assistance of over 70 fishermen and other experts and is supported by many fishermen and community leaders from San Diego to Fort Bragg.

“Our overall goal with the California Fisheries Fund is to help ailing fishing economies and coastal communities through targeted investments that can engage fishermen in the business of sustainable fishing,” said State Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman. “This financial tool will help align fishermen’s practical business interests with the State’s interest in restoring our marine ecosystems.”

The California Fisheries Fund is expected to engender new business ideas that can result in higher return on investments. Such ideas include the development of eco-labeling to fetch premium prices and new fishing gear or techniques that will reduce seafood waste (bycatch) and environmental degradation while improving the quality of seafood products. This will provide Californians with an opportunity to buy locally-caught, sustainable seafood that they can trust, rather than imported seafood where regulations and environmental protection are uncertain.

“The California Fisheries Fund can help move fishermen to a higher value but lower volume model for delivering seafood,” said Mike Dickerson, Executive Vice President of ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia, a nonprofit community development financial organization. “We believe the fund will help local fishing communities, improve the ocean environment and revitalize California’s working waterfronts.”

The California Fisheries Fund will also provide fishermen and coastal economies with a permanent source of capital to develop detailed reform models for their fishery. The reform models will include collaborative research and business planning. Once regulatory changes are implemented and revenues increase, fishermen will repay their loans at preferred rates. If fish catches stay low, repayments may be deferred or forgiven.

Many of California’s commercial and recreational fisheries have faced economic hardship due in part to some of the nation’s strongest restrictions on harvest levels and some stock declines. For example, statewide commercial landings peaked in 1981 at over 900 million pounds and declined to 292 million pounds by 2005. Consequently, fishermen, despite their best efforts, are unable to plan for long-term sustainability and profitability, but instead focus on just getting by one season at a time. This creates a cycle in which short-term survival becomes the priority, and conservation measures are perceived as threats to fisheries as a way of life and to the proud fishing heritage of the state.

“Today California’s fishing industry is faced with a ‘perfect storm’ of trouble including declining revenues and limited access to fish stocks,” said Dr. Rod Fujita, a senior scientist with Environmental Defense. “The California Fisheries Fund is designed to support conservation and improve fishing revenues through sustainable practices.”