Characteristics of Successful Sustainable Fishery Initiatives

Over the past six years, Wilderness Markets has assessed sustainable fisheries investment opportunities in more than fifteen different wild capture fisheries worldwide. Our specific objective is defining how to make conservation-based approaches a viable financial alternative to current wild capture fishing practices.

We have enjoyed working with numerous international and national partners on field assessments, desk reviews and systemic fishery improvement project (FIP) assessments. Much of our public work and partners can be reviewed at this link.  Fisheries assessed ranged from the United States, Mexico, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Chile, and four Caribbean-wide fisheries. Along the way, we have also reviewed a number of fisheries in Africa.

Behind these public reports are a series of financial models we created to quantify the viability of alternatives considered in different fisheries. These models move beyond the scientific and policy recommendations associated with fishery reform to account for the financial implications associated with existing or proposed measures. These models weigh the financial costs and benefits of changes in management, data collection and use, infrastructure and capacity development in the context of existing value chains and markets. 

Whereas others have ably demonstrated the potential upside associated with fisheries reform through significant economic modeling,[1]and others have documented key characteristics of FIPs,[2] we have focused on how and where the specific financial benefits may be realized in a value chain. We identify how the “upside” may be used to compensate for the costs of fisheries reform and improvement such as gear change, improved management, etc. Our focus has been on the financial implications for fishery participants, especially fishers.

Through our work and others’, the variables listed below have been identified as having a direct impact the financial viability of fisheries reform. These five variables have been examined across a range of fisheries and found to be consistent. It is important to note that these operate in the context of sustainable fishing interventions, most likely in a “parallel” model.

  • Product value 
  • Stock recovery cycle[3]
  • Infrastructure Access[4],[5]
  • Supply chain length[6], [7]
  • Organizational homogeneity and capacity[8]

These variables are focused specifically on the potential likelihood of securing the financial incentives necessary to address the costs of fisheries reform or improvements, i.e., ability to pay for conservation measures through the improved value of the fishery. These benefits may then be utilized to justify reform or directly support sustainable fishing practices.  

The priority quantitative variables that have a direct impact on the financial equation are:

Product Value 

Value refers to not only the price of the seafood, but also to the margin retained by the participant in the value chain, whether fisher, first receiver or processor. This is a combination of the price, operational capacity, input costs and volumes associated with a participant. 

Products handled by participants capable of securing comparatively high value in seafood markets were found to be more capable of absorbing the incremental costs associated with fisheries reform and conservation focused measures. Lower value products – either due to the inherent value of the stock, low volumes, operational inefficiency or poor capacity leading to low margins are less likely to be viable. The willingness of participants to engage in changes in practices such as gear change and harvest control regulations, is directly proportional to the value generated by the seafood product and realized by the participant. 

Stock Recovery Cycle

Life cycles, fecundity, biomass levels, fishing effort mortality, predation and habitat health are all critical components in defining the costs of conservation related measures. Short recovery cycles reduce the wait time to realize benefits in a fishery, capping social, political and financial costs associated with fisheries reform. 

The primary qualitative factors that influence the financial equation are:

Infrastructure Access

Domestic and global supply chains require sanitary and safe foods, therefore access to appropriate storage and transport is a significant driver of product quality and value. In seafood, this typically means access to HACCP compliant facilities able to reliably provide clean ice, cold storage and timely transportation. The absence of these factors negatively impacts value.

This variable is routinely exploited by supply chain participants (including well meaning development organizations) to attempt to integrate new products into global and domestic supply chains. Unfortunately, negative social and environmental consequences are not always considered by these participants, nor is there typically a simple mechanism for integrating or compensating fishers or others for improvement costs. 

Supply Chain Length

Supply chain length includes both the geographic distance and the number of participants “touching” a product in the supply chain. Extensive travel distances between points of harvest and market drive up costs of transportation, ice and storage, and lead to product deterioration. Each “middleman” in the supply chain adds handling and cost margins to the product. While these costs may be absorbed by the end market, long supply chains decrease the likelihood of compensating those bearing the cost of fishery reform and improvement, usually fishers. 

Organizational Homogeneity and Capacity

When considering artisanal and small scale fisheries, community cultural homogeneity has been identified as a critical component of community based fisheries management and reform efforts. Successful efforts are entirely dependent on alignment around goals[9], which is easier to achieve in geographically remote, culturally homogenous communities. Regardless of the financial upside, heterogenous community efforts close to major cities are challenging. 

At the corporate level, strong leadership and the ability to effectively respond to market signals has been well documented in value chain literature and in pilot projects we have tested.

At its base level, the presence of a functioning investable entity is a significant advantage in successfully addressing the characteristics identified above. 

Based on our review of a range of different fisheries, the above characteristics have a significant impact on the success or failure of sustainable fisheries initiatives, particularly in emerging market contexts where the financial and social implications of fisheries reform are often ignored by the conservation community.

Unless these factors are integrated into projects aimed to curb overfishing, conservation efforts are unlikely to succeed and the unsustainable status quo is likely to continue.

We welcome your comments, thoughts and views on the above.

[1]Costello C, Ovando D, Clavelle, T, Strauss, K, Hilborn, R, Melnychuk, M, Branch, T, Gaines, S, Szuwalski, C, Cabral, R, Rader, D, and Leland, A. (2016). Global fishery prospects under contrasting management regimes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.113. 201520420. 10.1073/pnas.1520420113. 



[4]Anderson J, Anderson C, Chu J, Meredith J, Asche F, Sylvia G, et al. (2015) The Fishery Performance Indicators: A Management Tool for Triple Bottom Line Outcomes. PLoS ONE10(5): e0122809.

[5]Basurto X, Bennett A, Hudson Weaver A, Rodriguez-Van Dyck S, and Aceves-Bueno J-S. 2013.

Cooperative and noncooperative strategies for small-scale fisheries’ self-governance in the globalization

era: implications for conservation. Ecology and Society. 18. 10.5751/ES-05673-180438.


[7]Wilderness Markets. 2016. Connecting the Dots: Linking Sustainable Wild Capture Fisheries Initiatives and Impact Investors.

[8]McCay BJ, Micheli F, Ponce-Díaz G, Murray G, Shester G, Ramirez-Sanchez S, and Weisman, W. (2014). Cooperatives, concessions, and co-management on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Marine Policy,44,49–59. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2013.08.001. 

[9]Csaky, Eva (2014) Smallholder Global Value Chain Participation: The Role of Aggregation (PhD Dissertation, Duke University)


Lead Firm Pilot Projects

When we evaluate value chains, we look for lead firms: small, medium, or large enterprises that are linked to many other players in the value chain and can influence the practices of these commercial partners. Ideally, these firms are thought leaders in their fields and open to innovation. Building on our value chain and market research, we work with these firms to lead by example. We collaboratively design and implement pilot projects that help overcome barriers to triple bottom line business growth.

Through these projects, we test our research findings, learn more about what will work on the ground, and iterate on real-world solutions. These pilot projects not only improve business practices within the lead firm, but throughout the fishery value chain. When successful, they generate financial returns that demonstrate the viability of new approaches in the industry and inspire other businesses to follow suit, thus improving industry competitiveness. They create new norms in the market that are sustained because of their business value rather than relying on ongoing philanthropic support or government subsidies to succeed.

Crab fishermen in Indonesia receiving their “Kartu Nelayan”, guaranteeing their access to benefits such as life insurance

Role of Lead Firms

Sustainable and profitable fisheries are built on secure tenure, sustainable harvests, and monitoring and enforcement, according to research behind the report, “Towards Investment in Sustainable Fisheries”. Rather than waiting indefinitely for these enabling environment conditions to transpire, using a lead firm approach allows project developers to leverage the assets and abilities of industry to progress towards better managed fisheries. In return for their contributions, lead firms in fisheries promote decreased supply volatility; increased long-term availability of the resource; improved supply chain efficiency, and more.

Lead Firm Project Goals and Benefits

Wilderness Markets’ goal with lead firm projects is to attract private, return-seeking impact investment and complement ongoing work by fishery managers and NGOs to improve fisheries. This approach enables local fishermen to adopt sustainable practices faster than waiting for the government to independently create and enforce management changes, and without the economic hardship for fishermen that often accompanies changes in fishery regulations. It will also bolsters business advocacy for more effective fisheries management policies and enforcement through a local cooperative structure.

Lead Firm Experience

From 2016 to 2017 we engaged with a lead firm, Blue Star Foods, in the blue swimming crab fishery in Indonesia. Our primary goals were to engage a lead firm to secure change on the water and development an investment model. We gained some valuable learnings, including the importance of fisher organizations; the need for ongoing, structured and unstructured facilitation between stakeholders; and the importance of pre-agreements for data collection analysis, and management.

Parallel Approach
Sumatran Fisherman with Blue Swimming Crabs

By working with a lead firm, the financial viability of data collection and management was validated, and many of the improvements in the value chain have continued to date, despite the project ending in 2017. [

For the fishermen, participation in the project included signing up for the Indonesian fisher ID card – Kartu Nelayan – which conferred immediate benefits to the fishers, such as life insurance. The government also benefitted from getting better counts of fishermen in the area. Through their participation, harvesters were provided clear and reliable financial benefits for small-scale fishermen to make gear changes; follow harvest control measures; and take on other sustainable fishing practices.

Successful Lead Firm Characteristics

  • Industry leaders: innovation, technology, experience
  • Highly connected in the value chain: linked to large numbers of producers
  • High capacity: can provide technical assistance, credit and inputs
  • Financially stable: can make long-term investments towards sustainability
  • Excellent market access and understanding: connected with multiple markets (to decrease risk) and routinely attend industry events and conduct analysis to stay attuned to market dynamics
  • Respected influencer: others in the industry look to them for thought leadership and hold them high esteem
  • Willingness: firm indicates a willingness to work with project developers, including signed agreements

Adapted from: “Integrating Very Poor Producers into Value Chains: Field Guide” by USAID, fhi360 and World Vision, October 2012.

Blue Star Foods initiative shows 3BL efforts work

lead firm crab

BSC fisherman with new vessel tracking device

Blue Star Foods, the Miami, Florida based seafood specialist, is proving that it is possible to have a sustainable and profitable business in the seafood industry.

The title of a recent article posted on Under Current News sums it up: Blue Star Foods’ founder sees ‘3BL’ effort resonating more with crab buyers.

In 2015, Blue Star Foods partnered with Wilderness Markets to develop their Triple Bottom Line (3BL) strategy. The company wanted to design and implement appropriate financial and social incentives to enable fishermen in their supply chain to transition faster to sustainable fishing practices. Through its purchasing power and relationships, Blue Star was in a strong position to influence the practices of a range of processors who have commercial relationships with a network of mini-plants, collectors, and fishermen. We designed and tested a pilot initiative in one site in Indonesia, which has since been expanded.

Triple bottom line refers to the idea of pursuing environmental, economic, and financial goals simultaneously. Our work often centers around the research and data collection needed to modify or create a value chain that fosters this model with existing practitioners.

“We chose to work with Wilderness markets to develop our 3BL strategy because of their experience with impact investing AND expertise with wild-caught fisheries. That foundational work has made implementation a success.”— John Keeler, Executive Chairman & CSO, Blue Star Foods

For Blue Star Foods, our work helped the company originate, design and develop the strategy (find the report in more detail here).

They have implemented it with vigor, and it’s paying off.

After only two years, they are seeing progress in the sustainability of blue swimming crab fisheries in Indonesia and have expanded their efforts to include the Philippines. In the process, these sustainability practices are positively impacting the social well being of harvesters and workers, and improving sales to more large-scale foodservice, retail and institutional buyers.

Read the article to learn more about the impact Blue Star Foods has seen and how companies may integrate the benefits of developing and implementing 3BL strategies.

Improve Data to Improve Sustainability

Case Study:
Developing and Implementing SIMP Compatible Seafood Data Reporting and Traceability System in the Crab Supply Chain

Problem Statement and Opportunity

The U.S. implementation of the Seafood Import and Monitoring Program (SIMP)[1] on 1 January 2018 establishes reporting and recordkeeping requirements to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) seafood from entering the U.S. The onus of proof is placed on the importer of record to provide and report key data from harvest to U.S. entry. In geographically diffuse supply chains, like blue swimming crab from Southeast Asia, with thousands of “points of entry”, i.e., fishers, tracking landings to the vessel is far less straightforward than short and narrow supply chains, such as skipjack tuna or sardines. This reporting requirement, while worthwhile, will require U.S. seafood importers to incorporate cost-effective traceability initiatives in their often-complex supply chains.

There is a growing appreciation that the needs of fishers and their communities must be addressed in order to improve the underlying causes of fishery exploitation in the developing world, particularly for small-scale fisheries. -California Environmental Associates

The requirement also presents an opportunity to promote resource sustainability through supply chain transparency and catch monitoring. Despite pledges to abide by size limits, U.S. importers of blue swimming crab (BSC) have difficulty ensuring their supply chain partners are buying only crabs larger than the agreed minimum size of 10cm and excluding berried females. The application along with a web-based reporting tool we developed can meet the requirements of the SIMP, as well as the European Catch Documentation (CD) requirements, and elucidate the in-country supply chain. By tracking landings by vessel and by harvester, this tool further provides the opportunity to address key social and environmental outcomes associated with the Sustainable Development Goals[2] (SDGs), which gives seafood importers a mulit-purpose toolkit to both decrease their reporting costs and increase the sustainability of the crab stocks.

The opportunity to spur social and economic impact should not be underestimated. Educating, engaging and rewarding fishers and communities directly for complying with ecological goals like minimum size, berried females, no-take areas, and more offers an opportunity to engage communities directly in resource management and provide key links to SDGs. Aside from nascent work by Fair Trade[3] and SmartFish[4], there are few fishery sustainability efforts that actually benefit the fishers that form the foundation of many supply seafood chains. Indeed, most efforts impose costs on fishing communities—time, foregone income, capital for new equipment—without providing benefits. Our tool allows identification of compliant fishers, so they can be awarded price premiums and other incentives.

Supply chain transparency is beneficial to the U.S. importer not only in terms of identifying good actors and meeting reporting requirements, but also gives them an edge in the marketplace full of otherwise opaque supply chains.

Provision of ice is a key concern


When initially considering how to provide BSC supply chain transparency from the ocean to the end buyer, we researched existing options, hoping to find one that could be customized to the supply chain. We conducted a desk review, scouring the internet and our personal network to identify all available options. In total, we reviewed nearly forty systems that provided varying levels of traceability; of these, we interviewed approximately six potential providers that met or came close to our key considerations:

  1. Ease of use – the user interface needed to be easy for data collectors in Indonesia and importers in the U.S. to use
  2. Utility for marketing purposes – a consumer-facing component was a must
  3. Facilitate regulatory compliance – must collect and provide data required by the SIMP and EU CD in a straightforward format
  4. Mapping – needs to provide maps of fishing locations to determine which areas are best for avoiding undersized and berried crabs
  5. Business model – a cost effective and durable business model that did not result in excessive fees or costs to each level of the value chain
  6. Data access, storage and ownership – data must be accessible by multiple parties within the value chain, stored in Indonesia, and owned by the funding company
  7. Reasonable set-up costs – ideally, a system would be compatible with existing software and hardware and would require little in the way of training. A team should be able to begin data collection with a few hours or less of upfront training on the system interface and they should be able to readily convey to the fishers the benefits of the system.
  8. Geographic and cultural relevance – the system needed to function in rural, relatively isolated areas with little to no telecommunications access
  9. Engage Harvesters and Vessel owners in order to build their understanding and the relative importance of adhering to harvest control regulation
  10. Ease of integration – overall, the platform needed to be easy to readily integrate into the supply chain.

Findings from Assessment

None of the reviewed systems met the requirements of the lead firm with the exception of the Pelagic Data Systems units for vessel management, i.e., vessel tracking. Due to the cost of acquisition and the relatively high ongoing costs of use, these were installed on a trial basis. This test was not successful, and cheaper, more effective units were identified.


Not finding a suitable existing program, Blue Star Foods decided to develop their own application to gather data tied to their marketing goals and objectives around supply chain integrity. The SIMP and EU CD data requirements were integrated into the data collection system. Wilderness Markets worked closely with an app-development team to develop an Android and iOS  application and support the field trials. After the initial field trials, the system was deployed to in-house teams from Blue Star Foods Indonesian partners, consisting of procurement and quality control specialists.

Implementation and Deployment

Data was collected at selected mini-plants and landing sites during a six-month period. Both harvesters and data collectors were simply encouraged to log landings during the pilot phase without any indication or reference to IUU or other considerations. They were not penalized or otherwise reprimanded for reporting undersized or berried crabs during this time period. Vessel tracking data was collected for a select number of boats during this period, which could be matched to landings data.

Parallel Approach

Sumatran Fisherman with Blue Swimming Crabs

Initial learning points

  • Data collection required additional training of procurement and quality control teams. This in turn required an additional budget to be implemented effectively.
  • The pilot only covered a small portion of overall U.S. imports from Indonesia (less than 1%) – the current opacity of the supply chain means we did not know how much each mini-plant contributes to the supply chain before the pilot
  • The system efficiency is high enough that recording all landings at a mini-plant or at a landing site is possible, though unless a quality control individual is onsite continually, it cannot guarantee there will be no side selling unless all buyers agree to use the system.
  • The data feedback loop to management has been significantly shortened and is possible in nearly real-time allowing:
    • Faster identification of low productivity landing sites
    • Faster identification of high productivity landing sites
    • Faster identification of undersized and/or berried crab seasons and locations
  • Data integrity and accuracy continues to be an issue and needs to be worked on – Due to their small size, most vessels are unregistered so vessel identification is challenging. Usual data integrity and accuracy issues for data collection operations exist, such as ensuring consistent data entry, checking entries for errors, etc.

Initial Data Findings

  • Initial indications, based on sampling approximately 10% of the harvest per vessel, are that up to 25% of landings can likely be classified as IUU (berried females & sub 10cm).
  • Boats with lowest supply chain loyalty appear to have higher levels of IUU (an assumption to be tested in additional sites)
  • It is now possible to identify the specific boats that are causing the high levels of infractions, and to address with through the supply chain in a focused manner.
  • Less than 20% of the surveyed vessels were responsible for 80% of the IUU landings

Fishery Management Implications

The ability to specifically identify vessels not complying with agreed harvest controls will permit a more targeted, focused and cost-effective approach to monitoring and enforcement of infractions. With less than 20% of the vessels are causing 80% of the issues with regards to IUU landings, efforts can be made to reduce IUU in a focused manner.

The data provides:

  • Ability to provide shore-based landing information
  • Ability to identify both geographic and seasonal potential closure options based on real data
  • Ability to target enforcement based on recorded infractions

lead firm crab

BSC fisherman with new vessel tracking device

Links to SDGs

In addition to the business and fishery management implications, the findings are directly linked to at least three SDGs:

SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Biological data indicates a quick (less than 1 year) stock recovery when undersized crabs are left in the water, thereby increasing the economic value of the fishery and decoupling growth from environmental degradation (Target 8.4)

SDG 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Increasing the transparency of the supply chain means that small-scale enterprises, like the mini-plants, can have better access to financial services (Target 9.3).

SDG 14 Life Below Water

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Using the data generated by the app, progress can be made towards sustainably managing fish stocks, combatting IUU, and providing meaningful market access for small-scale artisanal fishers (Targets 14.4, 14.6 and 14.B).

Recommendations and Next Steps

A key recommendation of the initial pilot is the need to establish unique vessel IDs with the support of local government authorities, which will allow more meaningful monitoring and enforcement of landings.

In addition, the need to engage with, and involve, other firms purchasing from the fishery was identified in order to reduce the opportunities for side selling.

A second phase is being planned to address the constraints of the first. The goal of the second phase is to:

  • Capture a minimum of 25% of the Blue Star Foods Indonesia sourcing;
  • Integrate improved vessel activity geographic data
  • Expand geographically
  • Include more processors, mini-plants and fishers in Indonesia, particularly in co-packer conditions
  • Replicate into the Blue Star Foods Philippine supply chain


The drivers of market access compliance requirements, improved social and financial impact in in artisinal fisheries and greater supply chain integration are powerful drivers for change in any industry. The relatively low cost now associated with data capture tools mean lead firms can utilize almost ubiquitous cell phone availability to cost effectively assess the degree and extent of IUU in their supply chain, while strengthening their impact objectives and improving market recognition.

This approach provides resource managers and NGOs as well as development agencies with a relevant, cost effective tool to engage private sector supply chains in achieving SDGs in a measurable, informed and data driven manner.


[1] “U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program”. Retrieved on 7 March 2018 from:

[2] “Sustainable Development Goals”. Retrieved on 19 March 2018 from

[3] “Capture Fisheries Standard (CFS)”. Retrieved on 8 March 2018 from:

[4] “Rescate de Valor”. (English: Value Rescue) Retrieved on 8 March 2018 from:

Leverage the Middle for Improved Fishery Management and Revenue

The New Middleman: Service Provider and Quality Assure

“Middle man — the very term itself is associated with extra hoops to jump through, farmers being cheated, and limited value being offered to farmers and value chains generally. The idea of cutting out the middle man is frequently thought of as a selling point, casting these intermediaries as the “bad guys” of the value chain, worth avoiding whenever possible.” -Robert Anyang, Chemonics

Reading this recently on the Agrilinks blog, I subconsciously substituted “fisher” for “farmer” because the same is true for our marine resources. Our friends at Smartfish, in Mexico, led us to imagine how a “good middleman” could lead to a more equitable distribution of money along the value chain, i.e., greater social impact, while also promoting fishery health, i.e., environmental impact.

Leveraging the Middle

Parallel Approach to Fisheries Development

At Wilderness Markets, we believe that middlemen, whether they are called intermediaries, buyers, or agents, can provide a vital link in low governance fisheries. (We consider simultaneous governance and value chain development in emerging markets as a “parallel approach” to fisheries. You can read more about this here and here.) Processors and distributors committed to promoting responsible fishing can employ “good middlemen”. These can provide services and also act as service providers and informal fishing rules enforcers  in geographies where official government management is lacking.

The Current Role of Middlemen (and Women)

Often viewed as part of the problem, in many instances independent middle buyers often take on a great amount of risk in the value chain. By paying cash for goods, they then take responsibility for ensuring they’re able to make a profit. This may require days of transport, during which any delays or excess heat cause spoilage and loss of value. They also take on the burden of finding the best paying buyer. In Indonesian tuna, snapper and swimming crab value chains, middle buyers also forward cash and supplies to the fishermen they purchase from.

Yes, some middle buyers take advantage of the harvesters they buy from – charging exorbitant interest, or not paying a fair amount for the product. This is an opportunity for competitors.

Better Use of Resources: The Role of Intermediaries in Parallel Development

Smart end buyers have started taking advantage of these vacuums as opportunities to assure quality, but this could be leveraged even more. So far we’ve seen a processor in Indonesia who keeps local middle buyer on their payroll; the community knows and trusts her, and she targets the best quality tunas. She pays well and in-cash; however, she does not let the community know she’s actually working on behalf of the processor because they fear the community may either not want to sell to her or may expect higher prices.

In Indonesia, fisheries are generally data poor and enforcement of regulations, if they exist, is lax in most fisheries. As is common, the fishing industry is as or more developed than fishery management. This situation is prime for parallel development, whereby industry, government, NGOs, and philanthropy work together to promote sustainable development of the fishery so that fishers can continue to harvest but not to the detriment of successive generations.

Localized data collection and management are increasingly popular ideas and are of great interest in the blue swimming crab (BSC) fisheries where exporters are trying to avoid overfishing due to its high costs, like smaller and fewer crabs, that may force companies to eventually relocate their operations. Efforts like this is one of the ways to increase enforcement in locations where the government has difficulty doing so. Middle buyers working on behalf of companies affiliated with exporters can promote responsible fishing is by not buying undersize or actively reproducing females.

Leveraging the Middle

Sumatran Fisherman with Blue Swimming Crabs

Using the Middle for Management

We recently worked with one US importer of Indonesian BSC (about 80% of Indonesian BSC is exported to the US) to create a mobile app that allows the picking plants, who are a first or second level “middleman”, to keep track of landings data, including size, fishing grounds, and weight. Among the benefits are the ability to avoid areas with undersize crabs and egg-bearing females. As both have lower quality meat, it means that not only are the plants more able to avoid this lower quality crab, but also that the crab population has more of an opportunity to regenerate. A win for the plants, the fishers (who can make more money) and the environment.

Working together to promote smarter management produces benefits for fishers and the environment which improves stability of the resource for the importers. Companies can gain more agency over the product quality as well as improve fishery management by employing middlemen as agents and intermediaries.


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The Wild Blue Crab Investment Model – a case study

Industry stakeholders understand that overfishing undercuts long-term value and prevents realization of full economic potential in local communities. The question is, what to do about it? Wilderness Markets and Blue Star Foods collaborated on a pilot program to develop one potential solution.


Rising demand for seafood combined with limited public spending on fishery management systems has led to overfishing worldwide. As of 2013, almost a third (31.4 percent) of fish stocks were fished at biologically unsustainable levels, a 10 percent increase since 1974 (FAO 2016). In 2016, just over 58 percent of fisheries were considered fully exploited, with no expected room for further expansion (FAO 2016). Recent research indicates that these numbers are actually underestimated: FAO statistics do not include thousands of small-scale fisheries, recreational fishing, accidental catch of non-target species, and illegal fishing because they aren’t measured (Costello et al. 2012; Pauly and Zeller 2016). In addition, global trends mask the fact that many individual fisheries have collapsed and fishing boats have moved on to exploit new species (CEA 2012). This undercuts fisheries’ ability to provide long-term social and economic benefits to the local communities.

Wilderness Markets and others in numerous fisheries have conducted extensive value chain research. This research indicates that while the harvesters tend to bear the costs of fisheries management improvements, the economic benefit tends to be captured by participants further up the value chain – aggregators, processors and exporters. This is particularly the case in emerging market fisheries, where several factors collide:

  • The inability to evaluate stock status and fishery conditions, due to the lack of reliable fishery data and track records, make it difficult to assess investment risk and rewards.
  • The current open access nature of fishery and the absence of tenure rights and enforcement mechanisms do not allow the benefits of fishing improvements to accrue to specific fishermen.
  • The large, numbers of individual, unregulated fishermen, who tend to operate opportunistically, making it costly to negotiate and monitor fishery improvement agreements.
  • The lack of successfully tested models for implementing traceability measures means that there are few investment opportunities and few models to emulate.

Using Blue Swimming Crab in Indonesia as an example, research shows that while processors in the value chain stand to benefit from improved BSC management, these companies do not typically invest directly in helping fishermen transition to sustainable practices due to the above factors. While many processors are interested in supporting sustainability, it is difficult for them to demonstrate reliable return on investment (ROI) to their investors to justify financing these efforts.

Because of these hurdles, fishery improvement efforts end up relying on ongoing philanthropic support or government subsidies, without reliable economic incentives for change built into existing business models.

Parallel Approach

Sumatran Fisherman with Blue Swimming Crabs

Wilderness Markets teamed with Blue Star Foods, a Miami, Fla.-based distributor of quality crabmeat, to explore creating an industry-led sustainability initiative within the BSC fishery in Indonesia, Indonesia with the hope it would provide a blueprint for other fisheries.


The first step in our approach was to gain a clear understanding of the concerns and needs of impact investors, believing this understanding will allow development organizations, NGOs, and others, to better sequence their interventions (that is, through their risk instruments, matching capital, public and concessional financing, technical assistance, and macro-level reforms, and policy initiatives) to encourage private sector participation while leveraging and preserving scarce public dollars for critical public investments.

We specifically explored the central challenges that keep impact investors from participating in sustainable fisheries:

  1. A lack of reliable fishery data
  2. Ineffective fisheries management
  3. Unreliable infrastructure systems
  4. A paucity of investment-ready enterprises

The team analyzed the current state of fishery data collection, resource management, infrastructure systems, and enterprise capacity in the fishery. We found that — like many fisheries in emerging markets — the BSC fishery lacked reliable data and, despite new national fishery policies, functioned largely without effective management and enforcement. We also found strong, established commercial and social relationships within the value chain that point to the power and influence of a small group of 16 processors that buy BSC from 400 mini-plants that, in turn, purchase crab from more than 65,000 fishermen.

Using the data collected, we identified and analyzed three models for sequencing and combining different sources of capital to overcome obstacles:

  1. Serial approach: Public and philanthropic funders first support the establishment of strong governance arrangements, improved data collection, and fishery management. Once these initiatives mitigate some of the risk associated with a fishery investment, then return-seeking investors are incentivized to finance sustainable infrastructure projects (often through public-private partnerships) and/or enterprises along the value chain, focused on outcomes that achieve a triple bottom line: social responsibility, economic value, and environmental impact.
  2. Consolidated approach: Governments negotiate agreements with a single private sector entity or cooperative to delegate fishery management responsibilities. The private firm or cooperative then simultaneously invests in fishery data, management, infrastructure, and triple bottom line enterprises.
  3. Parallel approach: A range of investors and other stakeholders (for example, governments, nonprofit organizations, fishing collectives) develop coordinated investments to improve fisheries data, management, infrastructure, and triple bottom line enterprises. Efforts can be separately funded, but they work in tandem and share the ultimate goal of achieving sustainable catch with an appropriately capitalized and profitable fishing sector.


Based on our findings, we identified the “parallel approach” as the most appropriate for the BSC fishery in Indonesia. We coupled this with a “lead firm strategy,” in which a “market maker” firm ensures market access and aligns economic incentives for change. This industry-led sustainability initiative draws on the experience Wilderness Market has in a number of other sustainable agricultural markets.

In this case, the strategy works with a U.S. based lead firm, to create financial and social incentives to

Lead firm and harvester

Lead firm and harvester meeting

enable fishermen to transition faster to sustainable fishing practices and improve management. Through its purchasing power and economic and cultural relationships, the lead firm is in a strong position to influence the practices of a range of processors, who have commercial and cultural relationships with a network of mini-plants, collectors, and fishermen.

Together with the lead firm and local harvesters, we developed a pilot model based on a partnership between the lead firm and a producer organization or fishing cooperative. The model brings together limited amounts of philanthropic capital and relies primarily on private capital to provides financial, social, and environmental returns. This return-driven model includes:

  • Purchase commitments based on price, quality and standards
  • Investments in fishermen cooperatives to motivate gear improvements and sustainable practices
  • Improved fishery data collection and traceability
  • Support for harvest control compliance

The pilot project is designed to align and attract private, return-seeking impact investment to the fishery and complement ongoing work by NGOs in the region to improve fishery management. Critically, it is designed to address the lack of loyalty in relationships between local harvesters and the supply chain, thus providing a basis to address the return on investment for improved fishery management.

Provision of ice is a key concern

We expect this approach will enable local fishermen to better organize, adopt sustainable practices faster than waiting for the government to create and enforce management changes on its own, and address the economic hardships fishermen face when resolving changes in fishery regulations. It will also help bolster local business and community support and advocacy for more effective fisheries management policies and enforcement through a legal, local cooperative structure.

The new facility focuses on utilizing good data to address a prioritized sequence of fishery management measures related to size, sex and seasonality in BSC fisheries in Indonesia[1], where illegal and destructive fishing practices are pushing crab populations toward collapse. By strategically investing capital in priority data, fisheries management[2] and harvest related changes, the facility proposes to share the upside of recovery with local harvesters and business through the value chain.

Vessel tracking unit to improve traceability

This impact initiative is aligned with local regulations in Indonesia[3] to further assure social, environmental and economic impact.

As a result of better data collection, alignment of economic incentives and effective supply chain management, the fishery will produce higher yields of BSC. It will also provide a traceable, sustainably harvested product that will have a competitive advantage in key U.S. and E.U. markets where the lead firm and supporting investors will be able to recoup their investments in sustainable practices.

Ultimately, we hope to help establish a management or governance unit of key stakeholders — including fishers, mini-plant operators, district and provincial heads, processors, scientists and APRI representatives (the association of Indonesian crab processors)  — in order to address factors in the enabling environment, which will strengthen this pilot.

Why It’s Successful

We believe this pilot will help overcome a key roadblock in creating sustainable fisheries in emerging markets: it provides a concrete, “proof of concept” that can demonstrate the financial success of sustainability investments and encourage other fishing industries to design similar programs.

By embedding sustainability requirements within existing value chain relationships and practices, we will:

  • Demonstrate the financial viability of investments in fishery data collection and management, thus attracting additional private sector action and corporate investment in, and support for, these practices.
  • Create new norms in the fishery that are sustained because of their business value rather than relying on ongoing philanthropic support; government subsidies or inefficient enforcement to succeed.
  • Provide clear and reliable financial benefits for small-scale harvesters to make gear changes, follow harvest control measures, and take on other sustainable fishing practices. This alignment of immediate economic well being with sustainability practices will improve compliance and reduce the short-term, negative impacts of fishery restrictions on local economies and communities.
  • Test a new, “parallel” investment model for combining philanthropic, government, and private sector funding to address fishery management issues. If successful, this model can be tailored and applied to other fisheries in emerging markets.

While we are starting with BSC fisheries Indonesia, the problems these fisheries face are common in a number of emerging market fisheries. We are building a model that can be rapidly modified, applied and scaled in a variety of fisheries around the globe.

We believe the pilot BSC program will help overcome a key roadblock in creating sustainable fisheries in emerging markets because it provides a concrete “proof of concept.”


[1] “Indonesian Blue Swimming Crab Value Chain Summary”. 2015. Wilderness Markets.

[2] Jeremy Prince. 2015. Indonesia BSC Spawning Ratios. Unpublished data from personal communication.

[3] RPP Rajungan, decree number 56/Permen – KP/2016 for BSC Fisheries Management

Sustainable Fisheries – the role of the fishermen

Significant attention is being paid to the oceans. Between the UN Oceans Conference as the recent Economist leader, attention is (finally!) being given to the significant and numerous benefits and threats to the worlds oceans.

At a time of increasing populations, increased demand for healthy proteins – and arguably a climate imperative – human consumption of seafood is increasing exponentially. Wild capture seafoods are increasingly losing ground to aquaculture raised seafoods, for better or worse.

So why should we continue to care about wild capture seafoods? Isn’t sort of like expecting we should still live off wild buffalo and antelope?

It is – and the problem is, many emerging market countries are still dependent on wild capture fisheries for social, political and economic outcomes. Many emerging market economies depend on a sustained source of seafood to address social and poverty concerns. Fisheries related political decisions –in the form of subsidies and / or gear – are good politics at election time. And the national and global supply chains themselves are valuable sources of foreign currency in many countries.

While significant progress has been made to improve fisheries management in developed countries with strong rule of law, challenges remain on the open ocean and in many emerging markets. As summarized in a series of reports we completed, these challenges cut to the core of why fisheries remain “unmanaged”. We would argue that a developed world, legal first approach (which we call the “serial” approach) will not work in many emerging markets.

What is instead needed is a concerted effort to engage fishermen, gather reliable data and find culturally appropriate solutions in conjunction with the supply chain. These efforts can be complimentary – and inform – efforts to address legal and regulatory requirements in “parallel”, allowing fishermen to realize the benefits of changes in practices, presenting value chain actors and regulators with clear data on landings, and doing so in a culturally appropriate manner.

Our recent efforts in the United States and in Asia continue to support this theory.

In the United States, now that the west coast groundfish fishery is in recovery, fishermen face the reality that the market price is below the cost of landing the fish as management costs have increased while revenues have remained flat (or declined when adjusted for inflation) for the higher volume species. The market, in effect, compares US groundfish to imported white fish and sets the price at the lower of the two, in large part due to the volumes, but also due to the lower costs of imports. Unless prices and market access improve for US groundfish fishermen, its unlikely many of them will remain in business (and this in turn will imperil the funding of the fisheries management system).

In Indonesia, the bigger challenge relates to the lack of registration of fishermen and vessels, poor landings data and limited data on fishing sites and practices, particularly in artisanal fisheries which are increasingly being drawn into national and global supply chains due to the increased demand. In many countries, fishermen are essentially unregistered, have limited access to services and are not legally recognized. In nearly all the emerging market value chains we reviewed, the first legally recognized stage of the value chain was the aggregator or middle person. This legal recognition is important – it enables access to government and private services and it allows managers to define and engage with users.

It will continue to be challenging to manage these historically productive fisheries unless these challenges are addressed in a culturally appropriate manner.

Wilderness Markets is developing a range of measures building on the interests of fishermen that address these challenges in US and developing country fisheries. These include improving market access and recognition for fishermen with industry; addressing fishermen registration and organization; ensuring good data is collected and made available to all relevant parties as well as aligning economic incentives. An essential underpinning of all this work is the need to engage with, and facilitate, changes in practices in existing firms.

As we are seeing in our work, systems change is possible, it takes the combination of a bottom up approach and a systematic assessment of metrics to keep everyone on track.

How Crabs, Fishermen, and Bankers Benefit from Better Data in Indonesia

In our previous post, we discussed why we and others have concluded that good data is crucial to fisheries management and investment decisions. This post dives deeper into our work to incorporate better data collection, analysis and availability into the Indonesian blue swimming crab (BSC) fishery.

How many fishermen are there? Where are they fishing?

Is this gear actually catching larger crabs? Is the gear cost-effective?

If we want to invest in improvements, how can we figure out if there will still be enough crabs to catch in the future to provide revenue? How risky is the investment?

These questions are ones we asked as we started working with a lead firm in Lampung, a province in South Sumatra, Indonesia. The answers to these questions were not available. Therefore, we’re helping to find the answers through a mobile data collection app to create better data.

About the fishery

Blue swimming crabs (BSC) is an important source of revenue for fishermen who sell their landings into the export-oriented BSC value chain. Since BSC first started being harvested commercially in the Lampung area, crab sizes at capture are reportedly getting smaller and there are fewer of them, indicating a stock that is or is becoming overfished.

BSC only require a short time between successive generations (less than 2 years). That, combined with their relative lack of mobility, mean that conservation efforts will have more immediate results than a fishery like snapper or tuna.

Why this fishery is a target for impact investment

The high value of crabmeat and the short time window for stock recovery translate to higher likelihood of return on investment. Investments in fisheries, if done from an impact orientation, can readily incorporate triple-bottom line outcomes that incorporate environmental, economic, and social returns.

Environmental: Improve the availability of crab through improvements to stock health.

Economic: Achieve a market premium through differentiation based on transparency, traceability, and sustainability

Social: Involve harvesters  in management and compensate them for the costs associated with adopting more sustainable practices

Each one of these impact areas requires better data for design and monitoring and evaluation.

What we’re doing to improve investability

The fishery needed more data to help with management and de-risking investments, but the mechanism had to be:

  • easy to use
  • affordable
  • replicable
  • scalable

The data needs to:

  • answer questions about stock health
  • provide traceability and transparency
  • be easy to access and share with multiple stakeholders, including private companies, multiple governments and NGOs.

Working with our lead firm partners, we created a mobile app for use on Android or iOS devices. The app will provide information to prove both transparency and traceability. Because of the platform, it can easily be tweaked to use in other geographies and fisheries as well as being useable offline – a must for developing country fisheries.

Value chain use of the data

Industry can use the data for monitoring and enforcement of regulations. In Lampung, there are agreements not to land or buy crabs that will negatively impact stock health. These agreements forbid landing berried females and crabs less than 10cm. There are also agreements to support gear change from gill nets which will allow for a more selective harvest. Data collected through the app will therefore be used by individual companies to validate and verify these requirements.

Companies will use the data collected to guide buying strategies to protect stock health and increase price premiums. Data indicate where the best size crabs are being landed and the firm encourages buying from those areas. They are also planning to provide rewards to help fishermen to purchase sustainable gear.

Environmental impacts of the data

On the more environmental side, data can be accessed by fishery managers for determining appropriate access and effort controls which will impact stock health. Managers can use the data for determining local seasonality based on size and sex of the landings; this, in turn, can help determine the crucial times and locations for fishery closures. The efficacy of gear change on landings can also be assessed using the data.

Not only can government use the data, if aggregated appropriately, the NGO community and private companies can use it for their conservation and development programming.

Social implications of data collection

The app collects data about the fishermen, including their basic contact information, landings data, and vessel affiliation. The landings data for individual fishermen will serve as a record of their income from BSC fishing. Accordingly, financial institutions, like banks, can use this data to determine their bankability.

Circling around – how does this relate to the broad issues of improved management and investment?

Management will benefit from better data on size, sex, landed weight and geography for localized management plans. Stock assessments will also improve with better data. Also relevant, the process of data collection has helped identify unregistered fishermen. Because of this, they can be provided with the opportunity to register for their federal fisher i.d. card (“Kartu Nelayan”). Among other things, this gives fishery managers a better sense of the number and characteristics of fishermen in the area so that efforts to manage the fishery will include them.

Implications for investment are multi-level. At the company or even industry level, investors can use the landings data for individual companies. In addition, the improved stock assessments and record of the expected recovery will serve them when determining value chain investment risk. Correspondingly, at the personal level, the data contributes to financial inclusion for the fishermen: it serves as a record of income for fishermen to banks and having their Kartu Nelayan gives them the opportunity to receive potential government benefits.

What’s next for better data

In this fishery specifically, we’re working to address legal issues related to data collection, ownership and sharing in cooperation with the ministry of fisheries and aquaculture and NGOs active in the fishery. At the same time, we want to ensure the ongoing usefulness of the data mechanism we’ve helped to develop.

We’ve also developed an investable model, designed for philanthropic and impact investors.

To stay updated on our efforts to capture better data or learn more about the investable model, subscribe or send us an email. Both options are below.

Governance or a Markets Approach? Both. Adopt a Parallel Approach to Fisheries Reform

In our previous posts, we’ve discussed reasons and ways for involving private capital in fisheries reform, including taking a lead firm approach. This post about the parallel approach is a direct follow-up to the three models we propose for investment sequencing; we recommend checking out that post first.


Is there only one way to make a fishery sustainable? We don’t think so. That said, we do know that there are some key areas that need support on the way to sustainability. Indeed, whether to consider a “governance” or “markets” approach to fishery sustainability is a false dichotomy. In areas where a market is present, which is most, governance and markets must be considered simultaneously and balanced for the short and long-term benefits.

The working model we’re developing adopts a parallel approach to address the challenges associated with developing countries fishery reform. In this approach, the markets, and by definition, the private sector, are key partners. The commercial relationships with harvesters developed by this model are critical to ensuring support for long term fisheries reform given the lack of representation and organization at the base of the value chain. We explain our thinking in more detail below.

Approaches to Management

Under ideal circumstances, fisheries reform would have a “serial” approach to design, implement, and enforce regulations. Scientific and economic data would be the bases for robust fisheries management. With reasonable assurance that stocks will not be overfished, value chain participants can plan investments in tandem with stock recoveries.

Serial or Parallel Approach?

Emerging market fisheries face significant social and political concerns to the serial approach. For example, legislating changes that result in reduced fishing effort to promote species and stock recovery has political and social ramifications that not all governments are prepared to address. Furthermore, the cost of enforcing such changes are likely to be higher than what is considered normal – both in monetary and social terms.

Parallel Approach

Given the desire to reform fisheries while also demonstrating the economic benefits associated with such reform, we propose that a “parallel” approach may be more appropriate in emerging markets. In this approach, different actors work in tandem to develop and implement measures to increase sustainability.

What’s are the Management Basics?

Investments to improve data and management are primary concerns for fisheries reform as these will demonstrate the success and costs of various efforts. Though species, geographies and cultural norms vary, there are some agreed-upon fishery management principals which will be informed and supported by good data. These include five parameters for:

  1. size,
  2. sex,
  3. seasons,
  4. geographies and
  5. ability to access to the fishery.

Generally, social and legal changes necessary to create and enforce these management measures increase as complexity and distance from the resource increases. The degree to which the value chain can enforce them runs in the opposite direction. That is, the value chain has the greatest potential to enforce size, sex and seasons, but their ability to enforce rules decreases for geographic restrictions and even more so for access control. Rulemaking must involve local society and governments, and their participation is particularly important for complex tasks like access and geography restrictions.

The blue swimming crab (BSC) fishery in Indonesia is a good example of a parallel approach opportunity that currently engages both the value chain and government. National government has already adopted and passed restrictions regarding size and sex. The challenge now is how best to implement and enforce these efforts.

Working Model

In our parallel approach model, value chain stakeholders in Indonesia have begun gathering data to help inform and reinforce decision-making. At the same time, the provincial government, in cooperation and communication with the local community, will set standards and provide enforcement for the five parameters. Managing seasonality, geographic limits and access restrictions are also actionable through the value chain. However, these will require a higher degree of social acceptance, enforcement and value chain adoption. Good data from working closely with cooperatives and harvesters will provide foundation for the harvest control strategies. We envision starting with the easiest strategies first, essentially moving from 1 (size) down to 5 (access control) over a period of less than four years for creation and testing of the rules. It is imperative that the local government and community create the standards to ensure the lead firm can work to establish sustainability within the fishery.

The value chain and lead firm approaches provide a valuable opportunity to implement effective enforcement needed to achieve sustainability. Value chain participants can insist on the adoption of these standards, which may then be verified based on effective data collection and using internal and external audits. The current working model also includes a proposal for the lead firm to make purchases through a preferred supplier network currently formed as a cooperative. Consequently, access to finance for value chain stakeholders will be contingent upon their compliance with the rules. Working in collaboration with local cooperatives and harvesters, the economics of this fishery are such that all participants should benefit from improved BSC size and  abundance.

Final Thoughts on the Parallel Approach

Ideally, government would provide the necessary framework and policies to implement these strategies, while providing effective enforcement as in the serial approach to reform. However, in the absence of this involvement, providing market-based opportunities to adopt these measures in a socially acceptable manner may provide a viable alternative approach, which is why the parallel approach is the most viable in many fisheries like BSC in Indonesia.

Lead Firm Strategy Implementation – Indonesian Blue Swimming Crab


In 2015, Wilderness Markets completed a value chain summary of the blue swimming crab (BSC) fishery in Indonesia in which we analyzed the current state of fishery data systems, resource management, infrastructure, and enterprise capacity. Based on these findings, we recommend a lead firm strategy to move the fishery toward sustainability. Like many fisheries in emerging markets, the Indonesian BSC fishery lacks reliable data and, despite new national policies, functions largely without effective management. The value chain has strong, established commercial and social relationships, indicative of the power and influence of a small group of 16 processors buying from 400 mini-plants that, in turn, purchase crab from more than 65,000 fishermen.

In this case, the lead firm is a U.S. based company, Blue Star Foods. Blue Star is working to create financial and social incentives to enable fishermen to transition faster to sustainable fishing practices. Through its purchasing power and relationships, Blue Star is therefore in strong position to influence the practices of a range of processors, who have commercial relationships with a network of mini-plants, collectors, and fishermen.

BSC traps

Sumatran vessel with collapsible traps

Lead Firm Pilot Design

With Blue Star and local harvesters, we are developing an investment model based on a pilot partnership between the lead firm and a fishing cooperative (in development). The model brings together philanthropic and private capital and provides financial, social, and environmental returns. It includes:

  • Purchase commitments based on price, quality and standards
  • Investments in fishermen cooperatives to motivate gear improvements
  • Improved fishery data collection and traceability
  • Support for harvest control compliance

This pilot is designed to attract private, return-seeking impact investment and complement ongoing work by NGOs to improve fishery management. We expect this approach will enable local fishermen to adopt sustainable practices faster than waiting for the government to independently create and enforce management changes, and without the economic hardship for fishermen that often accompanies changes in fishery regulations. It will also bolster business advocacy for more effective fisheries management policies and enforcement through a local cooperative structure.

lead firm crab

BSC fisherman with new vessel tracking device

Goals and expected outcomes

Ultimately, as a result of better data collection and effective management, the fishery will produce higher yields of BSC. It will also provide a traceable, sustainably harvested product with a competitive advantage in key U.S. and E.U. markets. This will then allow Blue Star and supporting investors to recoup their investments in sustainable practices.

By embedding this lead firm work within existing value chain relationships and practices, we aim to:

  • Demonstrate the financial viability of investments in fishery data collection and management, thus attracting additional private investment in these practices.
  • Create new norms that are sustained because of their business value and not ongoing philanthropic support or government subsidies.
  • Provide clear and reliable financial benefits for small-scale fishermen to make gear changes; follow harvest control measures; and take on other sustainable fishing practices. Immediate economic well-being is thereby aligned with sustainable practices to improve compliance and reduce the localized short-term, negative impacts of fishery restrictions.
  • Finally, test a new, “parallel” investment model for combining philanthropic, government, and private sector funding to address fishery management. If successful, other emerging market fisheries can tailor the model.

We are currently seeking additional partners to join us in this lead firm pilot project. Please get in touch with us if you would like more information and/or would like to get involved.