Rebooting Global Fisheries: Fish 2.0

Fisheries are a key component of global food security.

More than three billion people depend on fish for 15% of their protein intake and in many developing countries fish is the major source of protein. Some 148 million tons of wild and farmed fish were produced in 2010, with an estimated value of $218 billion (E15 Fisheries and Oceans Initiative).

Despite their economic, social and ecological significance, and a long history of fisheries regulation and management, most global fish stocks are in steep decline, by some estimates (WWF) as much as 85%.

Clearly, new approaches are needed.

Enter Fish 2.0, a global fisheries competition designed to stimulate innovation. Fish 2.0 connects sustainable fisheries and aquaculture businesses with potential investors to grown the sustainable seafood sector. Fish 2.0 is similar to the ‘X Prize’ in concept, inviting global entrepreneurs to submit their proposals (both start up and early stage business concepts) for review and then working with experts in financial and impact investing to help them evaluate their ideas and become more business ready.

Rapid and widespread fisheries decline threatens the health of ocean ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions of coastal residents, a point well made by Mark Kurlansky in his widely acclaimed 1997 book Cod, about the fish and its influence on the development of North Atlantic communities. These trends have stimulated widespread debate and fostered a wide range of management responses from consumer education to certification to structural and policy reforms. But, with a few notable exceptions such as Alaskan salmon, sustaining wild fisheries production has proven to be a losing battle for most national and international management agencies.

Fish 2.0 recently concluded its second round of competition. Nautilus Impact Investing was invited to contribute to the 2015 competition as both a business mentor throughout the process and as a judge at the finals which were held at Stanford University over 2 days in November. It was a remarkable experience. The 37 finalists and runners up presented an incredibly diverse range of proposals – from recycling fishing nets to more consumer friendly seafood to local market solutions, such as the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s seafood hub project.

The 2015 Fish 2.0 finals were a timely reminder of the enormous opportunity for innovation across all forms of fisheries and fisheries technologies and of the power of impact investing as a catalyst for market change. I left Stanford more optimistic about the future of global fisheries, and with a better appreciation of the work ahead to transform global fisheries markets if innovations supported by impact investing are to take hold at scale.