WWF, Finance Earth detail ambitious plan for FIP funding model overhaul

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Caroline Tippett is the vice president of ocean markets and blue finance at the World Wildlife Fund and Elizabeth Beall is the managing director of Finance Earth. Together, they announced a new fund to catalyze more than USD 100 million (EUR 91.1 million) worth of investments in fisheries improvements by 2030. 

Launched at Seafood Expo Global (SEG) 2023 by the World Wildlife Fund and U.K.-based impact investment advisory and fund manager Finance Earth, alongside industry partners, the Fisheries Improvement Fund (FIF) will establish and manage the fund, which will work through repayable finance to bring together industry players to attract public and private capital. Tippett and Beall discussed the initiative in a joint interview with SeafoodSource.

SeafoodSource: Can you explain in a little more detail what you’re trying to achieve with this new initiative, and why your organizations took it on?

Beall: Finance Earth is a social enterprise based out of the U.K. and we’ve been working closely with WWF over the last year – WWF has been working on it much longer – to develop an innovative financing model for fisheries improvement. We’re excited to launch this fisheries improvement fund seeking to address some of the issues with FIP project financing, which has often been ad hoc or done in one-off payments so that there’s no consistency or certainty of the full costs of FIPs being covered.

That’s resulted in FIPs stalling or taking much longer to deliver than they should, which often then can mean higher costs to all involved. This model that we’ve been developing with WWF addresses those issues with a volume-based fee paid by buyers. If you think of off-takers or global traders – the Cargills of the world, for example – would be paying a volume-based fee set up-front, before the FIP even gets started, or if it’s an existing FIP, before we come in with the model to then look at financing for the rest of the delivery. So once that’s agreed, it means that there’s regular payments coming in from off-take companies, and those payments are secured over the length of the FIP delivery.

The certainty of those payments can be used to also raise up-front financing or capital from the private sector or philanthropic sources, but basically it’s a means of providing consistent funding for the full length of the FIP. It also means that corporations are contributing to sustainability and embedding sustainability into their supply chain, and that many actors within the supply chain can be contributing to the FIPs, from retailers at different levels to fishing associations to the off-takers.

So it builds a lot of flexibility in the model to deliver in different ways. We see a lot of potential to then build what we’re launching today in the fund. We will be piloting this model, but because of the flexibility, we see a lot of possibility to scale it globally.

SeafoodSource: Why did you go with FIPs as the focus of this initiative? 

Tippett: We chose FIPs because we see them as the most credible, market applicable way currently available of engaging fisheries and moving them forward through a globally reviewed credible – now verified through FisheryProgress.org – third-party model toward more sustainable resource management. It’s a model that we see right now actually working within the market. And we are hoping this will scale to other commodities and other business sectors. 

SeafoodSource: What will that scale-up look like?

Beall: We’ve already been having interesting conversations with FIPs in the Philippines, Indonesia, India, and Africa – there’s a lot of potential to scale it. We’ll be looking at FIPs in all regions of the world. We have a range of criteria which we’ll use to assess a FIP being suitable for this model, which will relate to government support and on-the-ground support for it from local stakeholders, as well as buyer support – obviously, if we’re going to be signing agreements committing to a volume-based fee, we will need support from industry as well. Then we’ll also look at the status of the FIP. So is it a new FIP, is it an established FIP, and if so, what’s the progress to date? We will use a range of criteria to assess which are most appropriate for this model. 

Tippett: We want to make it really clear that this is both for small-scale and industrial fisheries. So this isn’t just for the industrial side of the world. And what we’re also excited about with this is, we did this in unison with industry. We’ve been working with corporate partners on this since 2018, investigating the idea of engaging fisheries through FIPs works. We’re now at 15 percent of the world’s global fisheries in fishery improvement projects, but the funding model isn’t scalable, and they’re running past time on deliverables because of that.

So we sat down together with industry partners and came together on something that we all thought is feasible. This is now being supported by our longstanding industry partners in sustainability – Mars, Costco, Sodexo, and the Walmart Foundation, and supported by Cargill and Skretting, two the biggest buyers of marine ingredients in the world as being one of those off-takers. All of these companies are already funding into the model, and Mars is also going to be throwing down an additional USD 1 million (EUR 910,000) contribution to FIPs because of their support of this movement and their excitement for the model.

SeafoodSource: After a period of rapid expansion of the FIP model, criticism of FIPs has begun to emerge in the seafood sustainability movement. Obviously Covid had a huge impact on the process on funding and progress, but can you address some of the recent criticism of FIPs?

Beall: One of the issues is that they’ve stalled and they have not been delivering the outcomes that people wanted them to when they were created. That’s exactly what we’re trying to rectify with this model – from the start agreeing on overall program activities and a budget, then getting that upfront commitment so that there is no stopping and starting, no need raise more money midway.

Tippett: In addition to that, also what we’re trying to do is create a sense of competition for FIP implementers. We’re looking to catalyze USD 100 million in funding by 2030 for fishery transition with the goal of creating a sense of competition for FIP implementers, so that when they’re putting in a request for capital, we’re comparing their work plan against other FIPs. That’s not happening right now. It’s all happening very ad hoc, very siloed. And by actually putting this into a global mechanism, we have the opportunity to drive that refinement and improvement and how this is done. We’re hoping to use FisheryProgress.org to be their third-party verifier. 

In the future, we think this effort will also spur the creation and support of other mechanisms for fishery transition that can fit into this model as well. We don’t really see FIPs as the definite structure for how we’re going to do this transition in the future. But we do believe the effort needs to be scalable. We’re always looking at new ideas and ways to engage, so we do want to keep minds open.

SeafoodSource: What do you say to criticism about labor issues in developing fisheries?

Beall: Whether it’s labor issues or local governance issues – if it’s a fishery where there’s many countries involved, for example, getting that local government support can be an impediment – funding isn’t going to solve those issues. We are very clear that this is a model that is going

Photo by Cliff White/SeafoodSource

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