The world’s oceans provide food security to 3 billion people who rely on fish as their primary source of protein. However, their livelihoods are under threat as 90% of the global fisheries are being fished at above their maximum sustainable levels. Asia will face the maximum adverse impact of that overfishing, as it accounts for 84% of all people employed in the fisheries and agriculture sector worldwide. Globally, the push for the so-called “blue economy” or sustainable use of oceans aims to protect economic activity worth $3 billion-$5 billion annually that coasts and oceans support.

There is help at hand from impact investors, who can sustain their investment commitments because they use strategies that earn them returns while achieving social impact. Two prominent impact investors in this space are the Partnerships and Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA), based in Quezon City, Philippines; and the Meloy Fund for Sustainable Community Fisheries of the nonprofit Rare group in Arlington, Va., which helps communities adopt sustainable behaviors towards their natural environment and resources.

Founded more than 40 years ago, Rare sees its role as promoting “behavior change,” where it helps local communities “adopt sustainable behaviors that enable them to benefit from the protection of nature,” said Dale Galvin, managing director of Rare and managing partner of Meloy Fund. Its chief tool is a methodology called the Pride Campaign, “which helps communities figure out what they feel pride in, in their backyard,” he added. “We look at that as an emotional hook for promoting behavior change.”

Galvin had spent half his career in top management roles in private sector banking and consulting, but a desire “to create value and stop more value-destroying activities” drew him to impact investing and Rare. “It was a way for me to connect my former business experience with the developing world,” he said.

At PEMSEA, the effort is “to foster and sustain healthy coasts and oceans across Southeast Asia through integrated management solutions and partnerships,” said Aimee Gonzales, its executive director. It works on driving policy development at the national level, and implementation of those policies at the local level. It emphasizes an “integrated coastal management” approach where it focuses not just on sustainable fish production, but also on sustainable ecosystem habitats.

Galvin and Gonzales shared insights about impact investing with Knowledge@Wharton for its podcast series “From Back Street to Wall Street.” The series is being produced in partnership with Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), a Singapore-based organization that serves as a bridge between investors and development goals in Asia. (Listen to this episode using the player at the top of this page. You can find links to the other episodes in the series here.)

Why a Dedicated Fund

At Rare, Galvin saw the need for dedicated vehicles like the Meloy Fund in his previous role as chief operating officer, where he led “Fish Forever,” a global coastal fisheries reform recovery program. In its attempts to scale that program, the organization realized that it needed to tap not just donors, but also private investors and governments. It worked on models around sustainable fisheries that showed positive returns for investors, in addition to protecting the livelihoods of the people that depend on those fisheries and poverty alleviation, he said.

“You can’t invest in a sector like oceans or fisheries and expect to make a real difference outside of the company you’re investing in, unless you’re connecting that to the management of the natural resource.”–Dale Galvin

The Meloy Fund invests in fishing and seafood-related enterprises, and focuses on Indonesia and the Philippines. The two countries account for 4.3 million small-scale fisheries, 21 million hectares of critical marine habitat, $4 billion in latent value in small-scale fisheries and 4 million tons of fish. “That is the most bio-diverse area in the world,” said Galvin. He noted that as part of the Coral Triangle, which includes the waters of Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, the area has about 25,000 islands and 400 million people, some of whom are the poorest in the world. “It is the most important place to work, if you care about coral reefs and mangroves and coastal fishing.”

In order to scale its operations, the Meloy Fund has begun collaborating more and more with governments, in addition to communities, urging them to adopt sustainable ways of managing their natural resources. Within that, coastal fishing is a critical area of focus, “because it is the intersection of food, climate, biodiversity and natural resources,” Galvin said. “It has been an undermanaged, under-appreciated part of the environment for a long time.”

Read the rest at The Blue Economy: How Impact Investing Can Help It Grow – Knowledge@Wharton