Can finance contribute to seafood sustainability in West Africa?


By Charlotte Gobin, Senior Partnerships Manager, Marine Stewardship Council
& Kaspar Baumann, Partner, Clarmondial

Today, West African fisheries suffer from several sustainability challenges, including over-exploitation of resources, habitat destruction, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, limited transparency, and forced labor. How can we ensure that seafood from this region is both environmentally and socially sustainable?

While the adoption of sustainable management practices is imperative for West African fisheries, it will increase the need for financing – both on the water (e.g. improved gear) and on land (e.g. storage or processing facilities) – as well as technical assistance to local governments, fisher associations, and companies. Investors are increasingly interested to finance sustainable fisheries, but to date there are few impact investment funds focused on fisheries, and none that are focused on West Africa.

Initiated by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Clarmondial, with the support of the MAVA Foundation, the Lead Project aims to address these challenges by providing the necessary technical, market and financial support needed to facilitate the transition to sustainable management of West African fisheries. With a focus on eight fisheries located in Cape-Verde, Mauritania, Senegal, and Gambia, the Lead Project partners will develop Fishery Action Plans and a complementary financing mechanism to support these fisheries in their journey toward sustainable management and MSC certification.

The fisheries will use the MSC sustainability criteria as a framework to guide improvement activities, opening the potential for future certification. Mapping and gap analysis based on the MSC Fisheries Standard will be used to identify areas where sustainability improvements can be made.

In parallel, the Lead Project will identify and structure mechanisms to mobilize appropriate financing for the targeted fisheries linked to measurable progress on sustainable management. Both the demand and supply side will be considered: on the one hand, fishery stakeholders will be engaged to assess existing financial flows, estimate financing needs and identify possible investment counterparts. On the other hand, providers of concessional and commercial capital will be engaged from the onset to understand funding requirements, priorities and processes. The goal is to identify a structure that meets the needs of fisheries as well as financers, and links financing to fisheries’ progress on Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria.

The Lead Project was launched in October 2019, during an inception workshop in Dakar, Senegal (link to report). Until September 2020, the fisheries participating in the Lead Project will undergo two types of assessments: firstly, an MSC Pre-Assessment will analyze the fisheries against the MSC Fishery Standard to identify sustainability issues and inform an action plan to address these. Secondly, a financial assessment will be conducted to identify relevant financing needs of the fisheries, particularly associated with the transition to sustainable fishery management.

From 2020, building on these assessments, the Lead Project will develop a dedicated investment vehicle to support and reinforce the sustainable management of West African fisheries in the context of the MSC standard. It will likely utilize a blended finance approach whereby concessionary capital de-risks and mobilizes private capital. The investment vehicle is expected to have a technical assistance facility to support the investment readiness of fisheries under consideration.

In the medium term, the Lead Project outcomes will result in greater and more stable revenues from the fisheries, measurable socio-economic benefits (e.g. direct and indirect employment and training), and environmental stewardship (e.g. maintenance of keystone species, ecosystem health). At that time the approach could be broadened to other fisheries, areas in West Africa.

For an overview of the Lead Project, please refer to this brochure here.

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