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Q and A with Brett Jenks, CEO and President of Rare

In January 2014, we launched the Bloomberg Philanthropies Vibrant Oceans Initiative to promote reforms to restore fish populations and help meet the dietary needs of a growing global population. To meet this challenge, we selected three partners with distinct areas of expertise to carry out a comprehensive strategy: Rare to work with local communities and fishers to implement new management strategies; EKO Asset Management Partners to develop investment models where private capital can be used to support local and industrial fishers transitioning to sustainable fishing, and Oceana to reform industrial fishing by advocating for national policies such as setting and enforcing science-based catch-limits. Together, we are working in Brazil, the Philippines and Chile, to revitalize fish populations and demonstrate solutions that can be transferred to other places.

In a new series of blog posts featuring our Vibrant Oceans Initiative partners, we asked Brett Jenks, CEO and President of Rare, to share some of the progress and insights from the initiative.

Question: What attracted Rare to be a part of the Vibrant Oceans Initiative?

Brett Jenks: More than a billion people depend on fish for protein and most of the world’s fisheries are severely depleted. This is a big issue for the world’s poorest, most vulnerable people, such as those living along coastlines in countries like the Philippines and Brazil. We believe that Rare can help communities to help themselves to solve this problem.

Rare has a great deal of experience working with communities and changing things in the water, but we need to work at multiple levels to build on this work. The Vibrant Oceans Initiative connects Rare’s work with communities together with efforts to establish sustainable national fisheries policies and the use of private capital. We see that as an innovative and winning combination.

Q: What role does Rare play in the Vibrant Oceans Initiative?

Jenks: Rare equips coastal communities to restore their small-scale fisheries, on which their nutrition and livelihoods depend. Working with partners, we train local leaders to adopt a new way of managing their fisheries, one that will hopefully enable them to fish sustainably forever. In each community, local leaders have used our signature Pride campaigns to measurably boost knowledge, shift attitudes, and advance conservation by creating national parks, saving endangered species, and boosting fish stocks.

This year in five countries, 50 different Rare Pride campaigns, run by 50 different local leaders will start a four-year process of inspiring communities to adopt exclusive-access fishing areas and well-guarded no-take zones. The combination of creating community pride, exclusive fisheries managed by locals, and a sanctuary for fish populations to rebound, is a promising new approach to restoring local fisheries around the world.

Q: Can you tell us about Rare’s work in one country and what the impact has been there?

Jenks: Years ago, the Philippines decentralized management of natural resources to thousands of municipal governments, leading to a grassroots approach for managing conservation. The country also has a rich tradition of managing local marine protected areas. But the problem is these areas are very small and heavily fished. We wanted to see if our work could shift behaviors, boost the protection of local marine protected areas, and increase fish populations.

Since starting work with the Vibrant Oceans Initiative in the Philippines, we’ve had 13 local leaders finish our program and improve their communities’ fisheries management practices. In these communities we’ve seen fish populations increase by an average of 20% inside the marine reserves just one year after launching our campaigns. In some places we have previously worked, fishers report catching five times what they did just two years ago. It’s still early, but these are very promising results. And this is just the beginning – we have 16 additional Filipino leaders in our program now.

Our Vibrant Oceans partners, Oceana and EKO Asset Management Partners, are reinforcing these gains by helping to ensure industrial fishers do not enter locally managed areas and literally scoop up all the fruits of the local efforts, and by bringing in private capital that will reward the good actors in the sector.

Q: Several mayors from the Philippines recently visited Bloomberg Philanthropies’ office and shared their experiences working with Rare. Can you tell us a little bit about your work with local mayors? How does this help you achieve your goals?

Jenks: We love working with mayors from the Philippines. First of all, they are very powerful – they have the authority to change the way coastal waters are managed, something that is done at the federal level in the United States. These mayors are also eager to share with each other – so success with a few mayors leads to demand from dozens of others.

Q: What does the future look like for efforts like Vibrant Oceans?

Jenks: Based on what we’ve learned from our experiences through the Vibrant Oceans Initiative, we believe we have a huge opportunity to improve the way fisheries are managed around the world. We believe that by demonstrating success to our partners and establishing a strong pattern of fish recovery and habitat protection at the right cost – a kind of conservation return-on-investment – we can scale these efforts globally. Likewise, the efforts of Oceana and EKO Asset Management Partners will demonstrate to other countries and investors the value of these approaches.

If 15 or 20 of the right countries adopt these approaches nationally, we can help them generate a sustainable supply of wild-caught fish for half a billion people worldwide, while also protecting the most biologically diverse marine habitats on the planet. But we have a long way to go and we are going to need a lot of help.

Q: You’ve been with Rare for 20 years – what makes you keep going?

Jenks: Rare has a board that loves innovation and risk-taking. Our board, partners, and donors understand that in order to keep making progress on these big conservation issues, we need to be creative and bold. I can’t imagine doing anything else…

Q: What’s your favorite kind of fish?

Jenks: Whichever one I’m swimming with!