Loan Program Invests in Alaska Fishing Families

An innovative new fisheries loan program announced March 1 will extend loans to new entrants and community-based vessel owners in Southeast Alaska. One of the loan requirements is the willingness to participate in fishery conservation programs.

The Local Fish Fund – a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Sitka-based nonprofit Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust – aims to reduce barriers to entry into commercial fisheries and engage the next generation of fish harvesters in marine stewardship and policy leadership.

The Trust was supported in capitalizing the fund by The Nature Conservancy, Craft3, the Rasmuson Foundation, and Catch Together.

“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,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and a founding member of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. “As a result, the number of young rural resident entering the fisheries has dropped over the past 15 years. Local Fish Fund aims to change that trend.”

While the loan program is open to all, the intent is to initially focus on Southeast Alaska.

The Local Fish Fund loan structure was developed in consultation with Alaska commercial fishermen to boost local ownership of halibut and sablefish quota. Traditional commercial fish loans require fixed payments, which is very risky for entry-level harvesters because the allowable catch and fish price may vary dramatically from year to year. The Local Fish Fund offers a “revenue participation” approach in which loan repayment is based on fish landings rather than a fixed loan repayment structure. These loans offer competitive interest rates with reduced down payment options, allowing fishermen to build equity to eventually access conventional loans.

The loan program also aimed to boost marine stewardship and leadership capacity in sustainable fisheries management. Loan recipients are given incentives to participate in conservation programs that contribute to sustainable fisheries management by collecting better scientific data, engaging in policy and management decision-making, and working on conservation education and outreach.

The launch of the fund was made possible by a unique collaboration between the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, The Nature Conservancy, the Rasmuson Foundation, Craft3 and Catch Together. The Rasmusson Foundation, whose mission is to promote a better life for Alaskans, acts as a catalyst for change through its grant programs. Craft3 is a community development financial institution that provides loans to benefit Pacific Northwest communities, is originating and servicing loans on Local Fish Fund’s behalf. Catch Together is a project of Trust for Conservation Innovation, a nonprofit that supports innovative conservation endeavors.