Workers in small scale fisheries make up over 90% of all seafood employees. These small fisheries, spread from Chile to Belize to Vietnam, catch 50% of the seafood eaten around the world. Small scale fishing can be a hard life — long days on the water, stock fluctuations due to climate change or overfishing, and often low prices. Still: fishing is a lifestyle, a living, a tradition, and a way to support families and communities. For small scale fishers who want to improve their practices, modernize their operations, or make changes to ensure they’re fishing sustainably, support and resources can be hard to come by. We’re out to change that.
Fishers that want to find better ways to get their fish to market or develop alternative business structures often struggle to do so. Fortunately, there are funders increasingly dedicated to investing in fisheries projects around the world, with the aim of reducing overfishing and ensuring fishers can survive and thrive in a changing world — an area of funding historically perceived as too high-risk. This kind of investment is unavailable to most small scale fisheries, though, leaving them with subsidies and NGO development projects as their only source of funding. But far too often, we see these subsidized projects flounder, fail, or struggle to maintain their momentum once the funding period is over. Small scale fishers, even fishing cooperatives, often lack the capacity or business structures to build and scale long-term change. With a lack of capacity or resources to build sustainable income streams, subsidized fisheries projects tend to end when the funding ends. During our work in Latin American fisheries over the past five years, we’ve seen this struggle play out time and time again.
There’s a huge need for organizations to step in and help connect the gaps: the gaps in fishery capacity, and the gaps between funder and project. Future of Fish has stepped into this space, helping get money to fishers and work with fisheries to build better systems and business practices: we call these roles “capital coordination” and “capacity building.” With the right approach and methodologies that start by listening deeply to fishers, capital coordination and capacity building are powerful levers for accelerating fishery sustainability, ensuring food security, and growing a network of resilient and innovative fishers. It’s a big job, but our experience working with Chilean fishing communities shows that this approach works, and can have huge impacts on the lives and self-determination of small scale fishers.
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Over the past two years, Future of Fish has partnered with four fishing communities (known in Chile as “caletas”) and an association of open air market vendors to design and implement new business models, with Future of Fish and our local partners ECOS in the role of capacity builder and capital coordinator.
After spending a year meeting with knowledgeable and dedicated fishers and local seafood workers, and identifying the local leaders who can engage and mobilize fishers, we pinpointed a number of initiatives that would have a major impact. Centrally, these include helping fishers execute new lines of business like direct commercialization (where fishers sell directly to market vendors) and diversifying from primary species as a way of decreasing pressure and increasing market potential, with the goal of moving the local system towards supporting more equitable, legal, paid seafood transactions. Without funds, though, these projects are impossible. Our goal with capital coordination in Chile is to help source catalytic and grant capital that allows fishers to transition to new ways of doing business that are sustainable, scalable, and impactful.
In Chile, capital coordination means taking a deep dive into the funder landscape. We’re targeting a wide range of funding, looking at everything from Global Green Grants to traditional philanthropies and foundations to economic development funds from the Chilean government. Coordinating capital effectively means matching opportunities on the ground — whether that’s diversification, direct commercialization, or co-operative development — with the right type of funds, and the right type of funder. This might sound like common sense, but when you’re dealing with small under-resourced caletas and large, high-level funders that might not know what opportunities are out there, this in-depth coordination is a big part of the work.
As hinted above, capital can only be a catalyst for systemic change if it’s matched with increased capacity on the ground. In order to build capacity in Chile, we’ve been working deeply with the caletas to help them build business plans, design ventures, and set up operating structures. We’ve helped the caletas set up fisher co-operatives, improve their organization, build governance and management structures, negotiate with other stakeholders, and build partnerships. These capacity building activities create a framework and a resilient structure from which caletas can transform and improve their businesses, improve operations, and identify systems and technologies that can support their long-term stability.
So far, the results of these capital coordination and capacity building efforts have been effective, and stand to benefit the lives of hundreds of community members. We have secured $115,000 this year to date in initial public and philanthropic funding to build co-op strength, support the design and building of a processing plant, implement direct commercialization from communities to vendors, and provide training and gear changes for diversification from hake to crab, with more in the pipeline that goes to communities and fishers. We’re now working with caletas and vendors to pilot the sale of fish through a shorter, transparent supply chain. The funding and initiatives go hand in hand with the capacity building work we’re doing with fishing communities, which have resulted in the formation of a brand new co-operative (and the strengthening of an existing one) with robust business models, formal agreements, and a formal structure. These initial successes have been affirming for us and the fishers and vendors we work with, and we’re confident that this approach can be replicated successfully elsewhere with the help of dedicated intermediaries to secure capital and build capacity.
Through capital coordination and local capacity building, we’re out to show that improving small scale fisheries isn’t just about securing one-off grants and subsidies: it’s about long-term engagement and finding ways to empower fishers and their communities. By building capacity in fishing communities — that is, empowering them to take responsibility as capable business owners and entrepreneurs — there’s a better chance that capital, once secured, will have a long-lasting impact. Our systemic approach, and focus on strategies that incrementally align and improve value chains through the successive access to coordinated grants and funds, ensure that the projects we work on are baking-in economic sustainability.
Our initiatives are only successful when they improve fisher’s livelihoods and incentivize ongoing improvements. We’re confident that our work in Chile is having an impact, and with time and dedication will result in improved quality of life for fishers and vendors. With scaled-up implementation and a robust network of partners and funders, this model will build stronger food security and sovereignty in Chile, and support the recovery of fisheries
We’re excited to continue this work, serving as a vital intermediary that builds capacity in vital small scale fisheries and coordinates capital from wide-ranging and innovative funders. We’re also eager to connect with others doing similar work in Latin America and around the world. No one organization can do it alone. Let’s connect.
Connect with us to discuss potential collaborations or partnerships, or to stay up to date on our progress in Chile and beyond.
Published June 2, 2020