Oak Foundation and Fisheries Policy

26th November 2012 in Domestic Fisheries Policy, Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

What are we to make of the astounding sums of money put at the disposal of environmental lobby groups working on European fisheries issues by the charity Oak Foundation?


Around $24million has been paid to a range of environmental NGOs since 2006.

It is hard to deny the many good intentions and motivations that lie behind the Foundation's donations. Good work is done across a wide range of issues including slavery, housing and child protection.

But what are the implications of this scale of external funding for the fishing sector, fisheries managers, fisheries scientists and the democratic process?

Oak’s stated aims in relation to the marine environment are to:

1. Improve ocean governance and the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources
2. Mitigate impacts of large scale industrialisation on local communities, and
3. Reduce overfishing and foster community-based stewardship of marine resources


With regard to European fisheries policy, Oak’s aim is to fund "organisations that ensure the European fleet operates sustainable practices either in European waters or elsewhere".

The main Oak initiatives within this approach are to:

1. Recover fish stocks and ecosystem health through the aims of the overarching Common Fisheries Policy and ensure its implementation
2. Promote growth of sustainable seafood in Europe through demand and supply side initiatives; and
3. Increase stakeholder engagement; improve fisheries management decision making and provide the pressure parliamentarians require to support progressive fisheries policy.

It is possible to question at least some of the assumptions that lie behind this choice of initiatives but the main feature of Oak's approach is its reliance on external third party intervention to achieve its goals.

Oak has apparently concluded that the best way to secure its objectives is to fund NGOs external to the fishing industry who are presumed to know better (or at least be better positioned) to secure the changes that Oak would like to see implemented.

This approach may have its origin in other fields, where it may or not be successful, but the underlying assumptions with regard to European fisheries seem to be:

1. Being disinterested (in the financial sense), NGOs apparently know better than fishermen, fisheries managers and fisheries scientists what is required to put European fisheries on the road to salvation
2. The European Parliament is the appropriate vehicle to determine top-down rules that will oblige the fishing industry, and by implication fisheries managers, to behave in sustainable ways
3. It is possible and productive to lead consumers away from unsustainable to sustainable fish consumption, through information campaigns of various kinds

This is where we have serious concerns about the direction in which Oak funding will take the Common Fisheries Policy if it is successful in achieving its aims.

It is exactly the top-down, well intentioned but misconceived, prescriptive, over-centralised, micro-management approach that has led the CFP to under-perform so spectacularly over the last 20 years. It is precisely the paternalist command and control assumptions that "we know best" that led to the catastrophic divide between the managers and the managed - that is only now being repaired.

Our view is that third parties like NGOs can't in the final analysis make the difference - precisely because they are third parties.

This is not to say that NGOs do not have a legitimate and important role to play in challenging the industry where it needs challenging. But putting all the Oak eggs in the NGO basket seems to us to be its Achilles heel in its approach to fisheries. And what eggs they are!

Oak Foundation Fisheries Grants

Organisation

Title

Programme

Country

Year

Amount (USD)

New Economics Foundation

Economics for fair & sustainable fisheries

Environment

UK

2011

249,683

Keo Films

Fish fight

Environment

UK

2011

496,752

Seas at Risk

Making sustainable regionalisation part of the future CFP

Environment

Belgium

2011

524,969

Globe Europe

Common Fisheries Policy Political Initiative

Environment

Europe

2011

135,900

Client Earth

European Fisheries

Environment

Europe

2011

350,000

Pew Charitable Trusts

Core support – Reforming the CFP in the EU

Environment

USA

2011

495,000

Oceana Inc

Oceana Europe (2011 renewal)

Environment

Europe

2011

2,000,000

Ecotrust

Sustainable Fisheries Trust Policy & programme Innovation

Environment

USA

2010

274,877

Greenpeace International

Seafood Markets & CFP reform

Environment

Nether-lands

2010

859,728

WWF International

CFP Reform

Environment

Switzer-land

2010

4,378,318

WWF International

Ending Subsidies that Drive Overfishing

Environment

Switzer-land

2010

1,000,000

Oceana Inc

Core support

Environment

USA

2010

4,275,000

Marine Stewardship Council

Harnessing Market forces to encourage sustainable practices in Spanish fisheries

Environment

Spain

2009

299,205

Client Earth

EU Marine Programme

Environment

Belgium

2009

244,969

International Collective in Support of Fishworkers

Bringing together European Small-Scale fishing voices in the Reform of the CFP

Environment

Belgium

2009

161,000

Fisheries Secretariat

Tracking IUU fishing, Control & enforcement through NGOs in Poland

Environment

Sweden

2008

300,375

Pew Charitable Trusts

Reforming the CFP

Environment

Belgium

2008

600,000

Oceana Inc

EU Discards Policy

Environment

USA

2007

266,040

WWF International

Reforming Europe’s Fishing fleets & Implementing the EU CFP

Environment

Belgium

2007

2,654,050

Institute for European Environmen-tal Policy

Processing the Ecosystem-Based approach in EU Fisheries Management

Environment

UK

2006

102,851

SeaWeb/Seafood Choices Alliance

Seafood Choices Alliance European Programme

Environment

USA

2006

1,140,525

Oceana Inc

Oceana Europe

Environment

USA

2005

3,691,200

Total $24,500,442

One cannot look this funding without:

a) Wondering whether its sheer scale has a corrupting effect on the whole political process, distorting the terms of the political debate
b) Questioning who are really "stakeholders" for Oak, and what exactly is their "stake" and their legitimate role
C) Worrying that this level of external funding, dwarfing genuine stakeholders’ contribution, has the capacity to misdirect the CFP reform from the decisive break with paternalism envisaged in the CFP reform Green Paper, towards a different form of centralised control.

Good Intentions are not enough

If there is one thing that has become clear over the life of the CFP - and is an important message that Oak should hear- it is that good intentions are not enough. The classic example of misplaced good intentions was the hurriedly introduced seasonal closure, in 2001, of 400 square miles of the North Sea to protect spawning cod. The net result, according to ICES’ later evaluation, was little or nothing of any benefit for cod but fleets displaced into immature haddock grounds (where massive discarding then occurred) and into pristine, previously un-fished areas (causing extensive ecological damage). This should serve as a warning. Naivety can have its attractions but it has no place in the complex and difficult world of fisheries management. An institutional framework that facilitates and encourages fisheries management through cooperation between fisheries managers, industry stakeholders and fisheries scientists is the best, we would say only, way to achieve sustainable fisheries. This does not exclude wider influences from civil society such as NGOs but it does give fisheries management a sporting chance of designing and implementing practical, workable, ways of achieving agreed management objectives.

Legitimacy and Funding
Environmental NGOs derive their legitimacy from the notion that they represent the views of wider civil society. Without any direct link between the public opinion and the views expressed by NGOs, this notion becomes more problematic as the issues dealt with move from the general to the specific. But the legitimate link between society and detailed fisheries policy mediated by NGOs becomes very weak and hard to justify if the NGOs are dependent for their funding on a very narrow base and that base has an agenda of its own.

The paradox is that generous foundation funding for the NGOs may not even be good for the NGOs in the long term if their credibility is damaged.

Consumer Advice

Despite the hype, there is little evidence that consumers pay more than lip service to advice on which species are deemed to be fished sustainably. Whatever consumers might say when questioned about what influenced their purchasing choices, value for money and concern about quality universally trumps environmental concern, when it comes to what actually goes in the supermarket trolley. Furthermore, the advice given by the Marine Conservation Society and Fish-to-Fork (two recipients of Oak largesse) is consistently confused and confusing. Consumer guides may give the people who write them warm feelings about making a difference but there is little evidence to suggest that people actually pay heed to them.

Large retailers will naturally wish to defend their brands from criticism and will for this reason "edit consumer choice" but except in exceptional circumstances the evidence suggests that consumer guides have little effect on what is caught, landed, bought, sold or eaten.

This is not all the NGO’s fault. The changing definitions of what overfishing actually is and the public's justified scepticism about media sensationalism makes this approach to sustainable fishing an uphill struggle. One has to ask whether Oak's money wouldn't be better spent elsewhere.

A Role for Charitable Foundations?

So, given that we think that Oak’s approach to sustainable fisheries, despite its good intentions, has a number of fundamental flaws, is there any kind of useful or legitimate role in fisheries for charitable foundations?

Direct investment in fisheries improvement projects aimed at transitioning to a more sustainable basis are a possibility. But the key here is working with the fishing industry rather than seeking to impose rules or conditions from the outside. This requires dialogue, understanding and collaboration - a diametrically opposite approach from the NGO megaphone diplomacy and currently funded by Oak.

More broadly however, Oak is only one of the charitable foundations currently pumping vast amounts of money into environmental NGOs dealing with fisheries. The Pew Charitable Trust, David and Lucille Packard Foundation, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, in addition to the Oak Foundation, have put an estimated $75million into direct lobbying activities in Europe since 2000, triggering expressions of public concern.

At the very least there should be a wide public debate about the significance and legitimacy of this important influence on fisheries policy.