Banking on Sustainable Fishing For the Next Generation of Fishers

Thirty-three year old Tracy Sylvester of Sitka, Alaska

For young fishers, the cost of buying permits to enter the business is often prohibitive, particularly for those who are just starting out and who want to make a career out of fishing, not just make a quick buck.  But now, with the rise of social impact investing and support from philanthropic organizations such as the Walton Family Foundation, Catch Together is building a nationwide network of community fishing permit “banks” that provide low-interest loans to fishermen so that they can lease and eventually buy a fishing permit.

Why This Matters:   Just like any new business, starting a fishing business requires hard work, determination, and agility.  And unlike in the past, fishing businesses also need private capital to get off the ground — or into the water.  They need help to develop business plans and evaluate financing alternatives that are unique to the industry — which is not something that comes naturally to either fishermen or bankers.  Special expertise and a longer-term mindset are needed to ensure the sustainability of natural resource extractive businesses like fishing.  Fish can be a hard asset to use as collateral for a loan — traditional loans are often cost-prohibitive.  So organizations like Catch Together step into the gap, pooling dollars from social impact investors and then making loans to young fishers and also providing business education and regular check-ins to make sure fishermen are meeting their financial and sustainability goals.  Win-win.

Aligning Conservation and Business Benefits Both.

The founder of Catch Together, Paul Parker, expects that providing loans to young fishers become a profitable endeavor, elevating a new generation of fishing business leaders all over the country.

  • “In a business that once relied solely on hard work, you now need to supplement that with fiscal expertise, data management, an understanding of the regulations and access to capital,” says Parker.
  • “When I moved to Cape Cod, all the fishermen talked about how they used to be the business center, the most respected people in their communities, and we hope to get back to that.”
  • In today’s market, consumers demand to know whether the fish they are buying was sustainably harvested. “My generation is all about knowing where your food comes from,” according to one of the young fishers benefitting from the loans and other support.
  • Catch Together is now working with fishers from Cape Cod, where it began, to the Gulf of Mexico, to Sitka, Alaska — one of the top-10 fishing ports in the country.

The Catch Together loan program also offers an adaptable blueprint for fisheries from Indonesia to Chile, which could help through impact investing abroad, help to bring profitability and long-term sustainability to fishing communities worldwide.

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