Blue is Green
Environmental Defense Fund unveils fisheries micro-loan program.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
San Luis Obispo fisheries consultant Henry Pontarelli offers a basic rule for sussing out sustainable fish: Keep it local. Other than farmed salmon, he can’t come up with a domestically produced seafood product that he considers an environmental no-no.
“The U.S. fisherman is one of, if not the most, regulated fishermen in the world,” he says. “If we don’t support U.S. fishermen, demand is gonna go offshore.”
Struggling local fishermen got a boost March 23, when Environmental Defense Fund launched the California Fisheries Fund, a $5 million revolving low-interest loan program to support the sustainable seafood industry.
“IF WE DON’T SUPPORT U.S. FISHERMEN, DEMAND IS GONNA GO OFFSHORE.”
While caterers arranged eco-friendly sablefish and sand dabs at Google’s Mountain View headquarters, CFF Director Michael DeLapa introduced the fund’s first loan recipients: seafood distributor Central Coast Seafood and its suppliers, Morro Bay Fish Company and fisherman Roger Cullen.
The recipients are all in the Morro Bay area, but CFF is also working on loans for fishing operations in Bodega Bay, Half Moon Bay and Fort Bragg, according to CFF loan officer Phoebe Higgins. Monterey Bay, however, isn’t on the short-term list.
“We haven’t heard of a [Monterey Bay] project that can be financed yet, but that doesn’t mean we’re not hoping to,” she says. “As soon as we have an ‘in’ with someone, we look forward to working with them.”
Several local organizations, however, are knee-deep in the effort to educate the public about sustainable seafood. For example, Monterey Bay Aquarium partnered with EDF to release pocket guides to eco-friendly seafood and sushi selections.
Convincing people to pay more for sustainable seafood will be critical to the success of the CFF loans, which are higher-risk and lower-interest than most bank loans. “For it to work, we need consumer demand,” DeLapa says.
But if Central Coast Seafood is any indication, the eco-friendly seafood market may be a good investment even in turbulent times. The company is booming, with record growth in 2008 and “no sign of slowing down in 2009,” says CCS President Giovanni Comin.
EDF consultant David Crabbe, who has been fishing Monterey Bay for more than 30 years, expects CFF loans to offer an opportunity to fishermen who want to re-rig their boats for a higher-quality, lower-volume catch that appeals to eco-conscious clients such as Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Portola Cafe, Google and national food service company Bon Appetit. “They’re seeking out sustainably caught fish, and willing to pay for it,” he says.
Santa Cruz-based nonprofit FishWise offers another sign of rising eco-seafood demand. At grocery stores that implement the organization’s labeling system – green for sustainable choices, red for harmful ones – overall seafood sales have increased 11 percent, according to Operations Director Matthew Owens. (No Monterey Bay area stores, however, use the labeling system.)
California Coastal Commission Executive Officer Sam Schuchat hopes the CFF loans will help keep the state’s fishermen afloat while greening the Pacific blue.
“We needed something more… as opposed to putting up lots of walls around what people can and cannot do,” he says. “I’m hopeful this is a big part of the future of fishing in this state.”