Twenty years after a moratorium was imposed on Canada’s northern cod fishery off Newfoundland’s coast, WWF has introduced an innovative model designed to help finance the recovery and future sustainability of fisheries. WWF recently published Raising the ‘Sunken Billions’: Financing the transition to sustainable fisheries in Marine Policy detailing the establishment of a Financial Institution for the Recovery of Marine Ecosystems (FIRME) as a full-scale solution that finances conservation without adversely impacting livelihoods.
“By providing loans to cover the upfront costs of conservation the FIRME will allow stocks to recover and ultimately generate profits exceeding the original investment,” explains Dr Robert Rangeley, co-author and vice president, WWF-Canada.
The scars left in the wake of the northern cod moratorium, imposed on 2 July 1992 after decades of overfishing, left a heavy toll on Newfoundland coastal communities, ending over 400 years of cod fishing and putting more than 30,000 people out of work in the region.
“Despite significant progress being made by sustainable seafood market-based approaches such as Marine Stewardship Council certification, short sighted management continues to impede fisheries recovery,” says Dr Rangeley. “What we need is a way to channel investment into the long term sustainability of fish stocks, which means – ultimately – investing in healthy ocean ecosystems. Focusing international attention on transition financing is the only way to ensure that depleted stocks recover and fishing communities thrive.”
Fisheries have become a dramatically underperforming asset. The 2008 FAO/World Bank report, The Sunken Billions, demonstrated that if fisheries were better managed, estimated yearly profits could be $50 billion.
“Realising these benefits is rarely achieved because proposed conservation measures hit where it hurts – the wallet. The lessons learned from Atlantic cod collapses show that we must find solutions that work for both nature and people,” adds Dr Robin Davies, co-author and deputy leader, Smart Fishing Initiative, WWF International.
The FIRME has been designed to address this very issue. The system will work through loans, based on a credible sustainable management plan, secured against the value of future fish stocks. Loans will be repaid with interest once a certain baseline on profitability is reached, allowing the FIRME’s original capital to be reinvested into the fishery.
WWF is currently partnering with stakeholders interested in helping to create a global FIRME. The most likely candidate for a groundbreaking pilot would be Canada´s Grand Banks of Newfoundland.