Bloomberg Sees the Upside of Oceans

Fishers in Amlan, Philippines, haul in their catch. Photo courtesy of Rare.Fishers in Amlan, Philippines, haul in their catch. Photo courtesy of Rare.


By Brett Jenks, CEO of Rare

I’ve been waiting so long to say this, I can hardly contain myself: Michael Bloomberg, in his first big philanthropic act since stepping down as mayor of New York City, just announced a five-year, $53M investment called the Vibrant Oceans Initiative. This is good news for the ocean and great news for the billion people who depend on fish for protein. It’s also really good news for Rare, the organization I lead, since we’ve spent the past two years designing a way to restore small-scale fisheries the world over. This will help get it off the ground.

It is no secret that the world’s fisheries, and the people who depend on them for the majority of their protein, are in danger. Fishing landings peaked in the 1990s and have declined since, but that hasn’t slowed demand, which will likely rise by 20 percent over the next 15 years. With so many people depending on fish, and so much more needed in the years to come, we not only have to stop the decline, but materially increase the supply.

Fortunately, this is exactly what Bloomberg Philanthropies is setting out to do with its Vibrant Oceans Initiative, a significant investment in RareOceana and EKO Asset Management Partners’ approach to fisheries reform in Brazil, the Philippines and Chile. This is not only the largest-ever philanthropic commitment to international fisheries reform, it’s also one of the first to simultaneously address small scale fisheries, industrial fleets and the private finance mechanisms needed to transform both.

This is a big deal for Brazil and the Philippines, where Rare will undertake our part of Vibrant Oceans.  Forty-seven percent of fish caught in the Philippines are caught by near-shore fishers. Eighty-five percent of fishers (or 1.3 million Filipinos) are small-scale. They fish from coastal villages in small, handmade boats, usually within a few miles of shore. Brazil is home to 500,000 coastal fishermen responsible for 60 percent of Brazil’s wild catch.

A fisher in Tinambac, Philippines cleans his catch. Photo courtesy of Rare.A fisher in Tinambac, Philippines cleans his catch. Photo courtesy of Rare.

Bloomberg’s initiative is particularly exciting for Rare because it helps fuel a new effort to create a scalable solution to near-shore fisheries reform. Developed with several key partners – Environmental Defense Fund and UC Santa Barbara – Rare empowers local fishermen with exclusive access to their fisheries and builds their capacity to set up and manage fishery replenishment zones. These areas allow fish to reproduce unharmed and repopulate the surrounding fishing areas, to which local fishermen have exclusive access. The result is more fish in the ocean and more fish for the community.

Exclusive access creates a strong incentive for fishers to become better stewards of their marine resources, so people and nature thrive. The aim is not to teach a community to fish; it’s to help make sure they can fish forever.

Rare’s work is centered on its signature Pride campaigns, which partner with community leaders and local governments and borrow tactics from commercial marketing to engage people in creating their own solutions. Rather than blocking access to fish or assuming new policies will ensure change, Pride campaigns help shift fishing practices based on local cultures – and based on people’s inherent pride in place.

Since 2003, Rare has launched more than 50 marine Pride campaigns in Southeast Asia and Latin America. In many of these fisheries, local people are now enforcing replenishment zones, boosting fish stocks, and increasing the value of their catch. This progress tracks with a growing body of research demonstrating that fishery replenishment zones in coastal waters boost fish stocks by an average of 445% inside the protected area and 207% outside of it.

Overfishing is a ubiquitous problem. Enlisting the self-interest of local fishermen is a sensible solution, and it works – particularly when combined with other successful approaches. Vibrant Oceans will bring together Rare and its partners’ work on small-scale fisheries with Oceana’s approach to commercial fishery reform and EKO’s vehicles for driving private capital to invest in the future of both. That’s a recipe for success.

It should maybe come as no surprise that NYC’s former mayor is behind this effort. Not only does he like sensible solutions, but he is also willing to make big bets when he sees the potential of a bold idea. The Vibrant Oceans Initiative is just that. We’re excited to get started.


As the President and Chief Executive Officer, Brett oversees Rare’s global effort to equip people in the world’s most biologically diverse areas with the tools and motivation they need to protect their natural resources.  Under Brett’s leadership, Rare has grown over 1000 percent; expanded to 5 continents and reached 6 million people; formed worldwide partnerships with the leading environmental NGO’s; and received four straight Fast Company magazine’s Social Capitalist Awards, which honors organizations that combine savvy business models with solutions to pressing social needs.



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