Earlier this summer, our Future of Fish founder Cheryl Dahle handed the Executive Director reins over to Peter Battisti. To mark the occasion, we asked Peter and about his vision for the organization and what we might expect from Future of Fish and the seafood industry in the coming years.
Q: What do you see as the most important issues of the future, and how is Future of Fish addressing them?
The issue that I see as most pressing for all of us who work in wild capture fisheries is to develop solutions for reducing or reversing overfishing. We’re tackling those issues at multiple levels but getting on the ground with our fisheries development work. That work includes research to understand how specific, complex fisheries systems function and we are currently embarking on the design of interventions to forge stakeholder collaborations with the goal of unlocking investment into those fisheries. Simultaneously, we are also building our own methodologies, expertise, and partnerships to understand how we can learn from these efforts and build scalable, replicable models for tackling any fishery. Opportunity and momentum are building in our community around developing business cases and investment solutions that can drive environmental improvements and enhance socio-economic benefits for fishing communities.
Since its inception, Future of Fish has been in the vanguard in the push for transparent supply chains and working with innovators to promote awareness of sustainable seafood to drive change at in the broader industry scale. Within the past couple of years we have expanded on that capacity-building role and are now working in several fisheries across the world to understand those systems at the fishery level. Our organization has shifted somewhat in response, but we continue both our industry-level and fishery-level work; both levels feed off each other, so the knowledge we gain is invaluable.
As we’ve taken on more fisheries work, we’re gaining the knowledge and experience in testing traceability technology in the field, opening up market access with value chain improvements, and developing new deal structures to finance fisheries improvements by unlocking private capital. As we test this in multiple fisheries, we’re also aggregating that information so we can build frameworks and tools to create portfolios of potential solutions. After all, we believe there are no silver bullet solutions.
Q: If there are no silver bullet solutions, what does Future of Fish do instead?
We take the long-term approach and apply our system lens to identify the barriers to change and identify opportunities to remove or shift those barriers. For example, how can the fishery be managed more sustainably? How can we improve labor conditions? How can we increase the value of the products being harvested? Most importantly, we seek to understand the human dimension of these fisheries. We believe that to create lasting environmental and socio-economic change, we need to understand people and culture. It’s impossible to get positive change to stick unless you can deliver on both.
Through all of this, one of the biggest barriers we find is a lack of access to data. Data-rich fisheries will be essential to achieving the changes we strive for. Data provides many benefits to the fishery system including the ability to apply adaptive management practices to manage a fishery sustainably and is used by supply chain businesses to improve business performance. Additionally, without data, investors neither have the information they need to perform due diligence nor a way to track and monitor their investments. The latter is crucial for attracting investment to the seafood industry, as we are asking investors to place capital into a resource that is often being overfished. Normally that is far too risky a proposition, so access to data is mandatory to mitigate those risks. Data richness — provided by traceability technology — really serves as a key lever in driving systemic change to reduce overfishing. You can’t monitor what you can’t measure.
Q: What does that movement look like?
It’s stakeholder-driven and relies on collaboration and alignment within the seafood supply chains. By understanding the system and its actors, we believe we can figure out how to enable those actors to improve their system. It sounds very ‘kumbaya’ but I assure you were aren’t that naive. There are many examples of ways to create collaboration through creative contracts, supply chain agreements, and finance, as well as investment that can drive positive systemic change. It’s not an easy task, but we believe it’s necessary if we want to stop wild fisheries from being plundered.
Our end goal is for fisheries resources to be better managed and for fishing communities to see improved economic results and better livelihoods.
Q: Why are seafood supply chains so important in all of this?
Future of Fish was born out of the systems lens and design thinking approach of our founder Cheryl Dahle.
The original research leading to the creation of Future of Fish examined the seafood industry looking for an area with the potential to have greatest impact. The results were pretty clear: supply chains control the flow of fish. The middle of the supply chain in particular is a source of many of the seafood industry’s challenges and, therefore, its opportunities.
By working for transparency across the whole supply chain, we can strengthen the middle and bring about some big changes. These changes wouldn’t just benefit the environment and government regulators, either — better business practices can increase profits and attract more capital to that space, with positive ripple effects throughout the community. We believe it’s likely our best opportunity to drive systemic change.
Q: How is Future of Fish unique in the field?
Our systems lens and the use of design thinking definitely distinguish us. We don’t just focus on the environmental conditions, but believe the current state of fisheries is a people problem. We therefore need to consider the human element and understand the cultural dynamics of the fishery communities in order to design for lasting change.
Our research approach is another element of our secret sauce which Cheryl Dahle developed and we’ve continued to build on as we’ve taken on more fisheries work. We also have a very diverse staff with a broad range of skillsets. While we have fish-heads on our team, our expertise extends to business, ethnography, traceability technology, finance, industry — our diversity expands our system lens to which we apply to our work.
Q: What stands out to you as a key moment in your time with Future of Fish?
Before I joined Future of Fish in 2012, I was a partner in asset developer firms in renewables and real estate, then I briefly helped entrepreneurs attract investment as an independent consultant. In that role I actually worked for the investors, performing due diligence on investment opportunities. It struck me how there were no good opportunities for investors to drive systemic impact as they were limited to placing investments into individual companies. I had several conversations on this topic with some colleagues and investors who I was working with at the time. One of those colleagues happened to be advising Future of Fish at the time. He ended up introducing me to the organization and after a couple of months, I found myself a candidate for the Business Services Director role that was open.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure if fish was my in my calling. However, after spending a day with Cheryl and digging into Future of Fish’s work and its vision for fostering change in the fisheries space, I knew this was where I wanted to be. It all aligned. — How could I not take this opportunity?
Q: Looking forward, what plans for the next year have you most excited?
Well on a personal front, I just became a dad for the first time so that’s really exciting! She’s the cutest kid in the world… trust me on that one!
As for our work at Future of Fish, I’m most excited about the work we are doing to create business cases for investing in fisheries systems. We’re developing partnerships with investors and developers in the seafood space, and approaching the problem with our systems lens. For me, this is a natural extension of my prior work as a renewables and real estate developer, now applied to more complex fisheries systems.
Looking forward on our traceability efforts, we feel the water is gathering behind the dam. There’s so much conversation right now around traceability adoption. We’re looking at how to accelerate implementation into supply chains while piloting deployments in the field, understanding the ROI to incentivize businesses — here, again, we’re also building tools and templates that can be reused by industry.
We also continue to build out our Fisheries Development Model (FDM). We’re currently applying it in several fisheries and iterating on improvements to the model. The FDM provides a framework both to progress a fishery through phased development process as well as structures our lens for analyzing the fisheries systems to design for positive change.
In the year ahead, I’m looking forward to our team’s expansion as we’ve added a number of new staff. We have a great group of very dedicated, inspired individuals who continue to impress me with their dedication and selflessness. The work we are doing is incredibly rewarding and challenging. We’re looking forward to a busy and exciting 2018!