Aerial view of a small commercial fishing vessel in the Pacific Ocean off the Alaska coast.
Small Boat Fleet Local Fish Fund supports communities © Graham Kraft

Newsroom

Local Fish Fund Celebrates Successes

Announcing new fishing loans in five Alaska communities.

Eight young commercial fishers are out in the Gulf of Alaska catching halibut and sablefish while at the same time engaging in conservation efforts to sustain the fishery, thanks to $1.5 million in loans from the Local Fish Fund.

Launched in 2019, Local Fish Fund uses an innovative revenue sharing model to reduce barriers to entry into commercial fisheries and support the next generation of Alaska’s commercial fishermen in purchasing fishing privileges, known as quota. Local Fish Fund incentivizes ocean conservation and aims to increase fishery policy leadership and stewardship in Alaska. Local Fish Fund is a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, a Sitka-based nonprofit organization that protects and promotes fishing and fisheries.

The Local Fish Fund recently passed a significant milestone after issuing its eighth loan and fully expending the initial $1.5 million in available funding.

“We see the clear success of this program in the commitment of young Alaskans to invest in the fishery,” said Linda Behnken, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and a founding board member of the Local Fish Fund.

For Danya Ortega, it means the fishing life she’s grown to love could be a lifelong career. Her first job was trolling in 2015, and now, thanks to a loan from Local Fish Fund, she is a quota owner and is able to fish her quota on the vessel where she’s worked for years.

In addition to having a financial path to a successful fisheries career, Ortega said she’s learning about sustainable fisheries and how she can participate and help shape the future of fisheries management.

“Fishing is my life, it is what I do,” Ortega says. “It’s not just a job. I love living in Alaska, being on the water, harvesting seafood from our planet, seeing the whole process from seafood to plate and watching people enjoy the fish.”

This is how Local Fish Fund (LFF) works: LFF extends loans with competitive interest rates to new entrants and community-based vessel owners seeking to finance quota share purchases. Borrowers must be willing to participate in fishery conservation programs as part of the loan requirements.

LFF loans provide borrowers with reduced down payment options and variable repayments based on fishing operation cashflow. This structure allows borrowers to build equity and a credit history over a five- to six-year period to levels that should enhance their ability to qualify for refinancing with a traditional lender. The quota shares financed by LFF loans serve as the sole collateral for the loan, and the borrower shares with LFF any gains associated with increased value realized upon refinancing.

“The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownership,” Behnken, said. “As a result, the number of young rural residents entering the fisheries has dropped over the past 15 years. Local Fish Fund lowers both the risk and the initial cost new entrants face.” 

LFF has issued eight loans (average value of $187,500) to fishermen in the Alaskan port communities of Cordova, Haines, Homer, Ketchikan and Sitka. Loan recipients include crew members and vessel owners; all are participating in conservation programs such as bathymetric and bycatch mapping or a sperm whale avoidance network to reduce interactions while fishing, reducing impact on sensitive habitats and bycatch (untargeted species) by mapping and sharing hotspots, and taking leadership in policy and decision-making forums to promote business practices in sustainable fisheries management.

The launch of the LFF loan fund was made possible by a collaboration that brought together varied expertise across fisheries, conservation, and finance. Craft3, a nonprofit loan fund based in Oregon and Washington, is underwriting, closing and servicing loans on Local Fish Fund’s behalf. The Nature Conservancy, which has worked with fishing communities to develop economic incentives for fisheries conservation in communities across the globe, helped to structure the fund; and Rasmuson Foundation, Catch Together and The Nature Conservancy capitalized the loan fund.

While Local Fish Fund leaders are pleased with the success of the program so far, Behnken notes there’s more to do. “Alaska’s coastal communities depend on access to healthy commercial fisheries. Our goal is to help Alaskans regain access and safeguard the fisheries for future generations.”

Following the completion of this pilot, project partners will assess loan performance and continued interest in the Local Fish Fund loans to determine the timing and sizing of a future round of funding to support ongoing lending.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.