At the World Ocean Summit held last month in Mexico, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and three impact funds – Meloy Fund, Encourage Capital and Althelia Ecosphere – announced the first-ever set of Principles for Investment in Sustainable Fisheries, aimed at bringing more money into an increasingly critical sector and growing global challenge.
“We think the principles really distill down the environmental and social issues that are critical to sustainable, profitable and responsible fisheries,” Tim Fitzgerald, Director of Impact at the Fishery Solutions Center, a project of EDF, said in a recent interview. “We’re very excited to see adopters put the Principles into practice to guide the development and execution of new sustainable fisheries investment projects.”
This could not be more timely, as awareness grows about how fisheries around the world are at risk from a wide range of factors. Overfishing is decimating species such as sushi favorite bluefin tuna, which is being caught at levels too high for the population to be able replace itself through natural reproduction. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) accounts for an estimated 30 percent of all catch in some fisheries, and is a particular problem in international waters and is connected to the use of slave labor. IUU operations often use tools like catch-all nets and other mass-catch tools, which increase ocean by-catch of endangered or threatened species such as turtles, dolphins or sharks, which are then discarded overboard dead or dying.
Factor in the increasing threat of coral bleaching, which damages the food sources that sustain fisheries, and our growing ocean plastic problem and it’s clear: Our oceans are in crisis, and we need to find ways to invest in sustainable alternatives to the dangerous, destructive status quo.
This is where the principles’ founding partners saw an opportunity. Currently, there is a lot of money in fisheries coming from many traditional sources. According to EDF, several billion dollars in public and private money are invested in fisheries each year, but until now, sustainability has rarely been a criterion for how these investment decisions are made. The principles aim to change this in a way that would appeal to investors, being designed to provide certainty and confidence that building environmental and social sustainability into fisheries will yield a strong return on their investment.
“This framework provides a practical and realistic set of guidelines to investors and investees to ensure that their activities contribute to sustainable fisheries,” said Manuel Bueno Vera with the Meloy Fund, who focused on investing in coastal fisheries.
The nine principles cover issues ranging from compliance and environmental status to human rights and transparency. There are also three implementation process recommendations aimed at ensuring that those who sign up to the principles follow through on their obligations.
In the short term, the impact of the principles will likely be relatively small when compared to the scale of the problem, but EDF and its initial partners hope to see quick buy-in and, with time, a broader, industrywide focus on sustainable investments in global fisheries.
“We can measure impact by looking at the total capital that is being deployed in compliance with the principles,” Fitzgerald said. “For now, we’re talking about tens of millions of dollars, but we think uptake by development finance institutions and more mainstream, commercial investors isn’t too far down the road.”
In fact, Meloy Fund has already seen positive momentum since the launch, a sign that the future for the world’s oceans could be better than the present.
“After being launched ... the principles have generated a lot of interest and several investors have approached us requesting more information,” Bueno Vera said. “Ultimately, we want these Principles to become the standard for sustainable fisheries investing.”