The Local Fish Fund is an innovative fisheries loan program that will provide a new financing tool for the next generation of commercial fishers in Alaska’s fishing communities.
The Local Fish Fund is a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, a Sitka-based nonprofit organization that protects and promotes fishing and fisheries. The loan fund aims to support Alaska’s fishing communities by reducing specific barriers to entry into commercial fisheries and engaging next-generation fishermen in marine stewardship and policy leadership. Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust was supported in setting up and capitalizing the fund by The Nature Conservancy, Craft3, Rasmuson Foundation, and Catch Together.
“The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownership,” says Linda Behnken, commercial fisherman and founding member of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. “As a result, the number of young rural residents entering the fisheries has dropped over the past 15 years. Local Fish Fund aims to change that trend by lowering barriers to entry while engaging the next generation of community-based fishermen in resource conservation and management.”
The Local Fish Fund loan structure has been developed in close consultation with commercial fishermen in Alaska to increase local ownership of halibut and sablefish quota. Traditional commercial fish loans require fixed payments, like a home loan. This presents substantial risk for entry-level commercial fishing businesses because the allowable catch and fish price can vary dramatically from year to year. In contrast, the Local Fish Fund loans use a “revenue participation” approach in which loan repayment is based on fish landings rather than a fixed loan repayment structure. The Local Fish Fund offers loans with competitive interest rates and reduced down payment options, and allows fishermen to build sufficient equity to eventually access conventional loans.
In addition to providing easier access to quota purchase, this loan program has been developed to increase marine stewardship and leadership capacity in the field of sustainable fisheries management. Loan recipients will be incentivized to participate in a flexible set of conservation programs that contribute to sustainable fisheries management by collecting better scientific data; engaging in policy and management decision-making; and working on conservation education and outreach.
“Alaska has some of the most sustainably managed fisheries in the world,” says Christine Woll, the Southeast Alaska program director for The Nature Conservancy. “This is due in large part to Alaskans having an active voice in how our fisheries are managed. Encouraging local participation in our commercial fisheries helps foster a long-standing Alaska tradition of community-based stewardship of our natural resources.”
The launch of this loan fund was made possible by a unique collaboration that brought together varied expertise across fisheries, conservation, and finance. In addition to the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, the launch of the fund was supported by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, which has a long history of leadership in Alaskan fisheries management; The Nature Conservancy, which has worked with fishing communities to develop economic incentives for fisheries conservation in communities across the globe; and Craft3, a community development financial institution, which provides loans to benefit Pacific Northwest communities, and is originating and servicing loans on Local Fish Fund’s behalf. The Rasmuson Foundation and Catch Together have capitalized the loan fund, which will seek to make a series of loans over the next two to three years.
“We know how important quota ownership is to fishing communities in Southeast Alaska, and we are pleased to be a financing partner to the Local Fish Fund and its program to keep quota in the hands of local fishermen” says Kelly Wachowicz, Managing Partner of Catch Together.
“Joining Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and The Nature Conservancy to launch the Local Fish Fund makes perfect sense to Craft3. This effort expands on our decades-long commitment to sustainable fisheries, conservation, and community development,” stated Craft3 President & CEO Adam Zimmerman. “The Local Fish Fund’s flexible credit and conservation incentives will preserve local fishery ownership, build equity in communities and families, and sustain fisheries health. This can be a model for how private, nonprofit, and philanthropic partners can work together to invest in current and next generation fishermen committed to sustainability.”
“The Local Fish Fund relies on creative thinking – and strong local and national partners – to open up economic opportunities in one of Alaska’s most valued industries, fishing,” said Chris Perez, Rasmuson Foundation senior program officer.
Behnken also thanked the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and The Oak Foundation, which provided long-time support for the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and helped out with the development of the Local Fish Fund.