Fisheries are critical to economic livelihood and food security in the Pacific. Inshore fisheries provide the primary or secondary source of income for up to 50 percent of Pacific households (SPC 2015). Government, business, civil society, and international partners must work together to ensure sustainable management of marine resources for current and future generations. When the U.S. Department of State learned about the Fish 2.0 competition, we took the bait. We are proud to be sponsors of an effort that supports sustainable seafood businesses by linking them to global networks of experts and investors.
Fish 2.0 is a year-long competition conducted online, so that seafood businesses anywhere in the world can participate. During the competition, each business receives feedback from expert judges, and competitors also take part in webinars that provide additional knowledge building on topics such as winning investment, legal fundamentals, and working with large scale buyers. The competition has four phases, and finalists have a unique opportunity to present their business ideas to a broad range of investors and supply-chain partners who are interested in seafood and can help their businesses grow.
In 2015, the U.S. State Department sponsored the Fish 2.0 competition in the Pacific Islands, and the results were outstanding. I had the pleasure of meeting the first group of Pacific competitors at a Fish 2.0 workshop in Nadi, Fiji. At the workshop, 30 aspiring entrepreneurs learned critical business skills, how to create a growth plan, develop a company vision, and work with global investors—all with a unique focus on sustainability and impact. In that year’s competition, five Pacific businesses advanced to the final round to pitch their businesses against competitors from around the world. The Pacific Islands’ impressive showing demonstrated the region’s commitment to sustainability and strong entrepreneurial spirit.
Bhan Singh of Pacific Fishing Company Limited, based in Suva, Fiji, had a positive experience as a 2015 Fish 2.0 finalist. After pitching at the finals, Singh launched into discussions with a prospective buyer of a new product that is currently in development. Singh also won a Fish 2.0 capacity-building prize that enabled him to identify some of the issues and bottlenecks his company faced and improve its productivity. “Fish 2.0 definitely helped us re-think the business,” Singh said. “Social responsibility and sustainability is a big part of the process of Fish 2.0 and it gave me a lot of insights and inspired me to think business from a different dynamic.”
Another one of the 2015 participants, Alfred Kalontas of ALFA Fishing, from Vanuatu, was a Fish 2.0 finalist and winner after demonstrating how his business model generates revenue and positive social impact. Kalontas’ performance earned him a grant from the Government of New Zealand that will ready his company to accept outside investment, and his success is already having a positive impact on other businesses in the Pacific. Kalontas explained, “The prize we won had raised a lot of interest and encouragement locally and regionally for small and medium fisheries related businesses.”
Both Kalontas and 2015 finalist, Pacific Ocean Culture Pte Ltd, a Fijian aquaculture company, called for other Pacific companies to join the competition. Pacific Ocean Culture’s Paul Ryan and Cathy Joyce said that Fish 2.0 provided their company access to business networks and resources not typically available in developing countries. According to Joyce, “Fish 2.0 helped shape changes to how we operate, gave focus, required us to define the business which was useful at the start-up phase and has continued to be invaluable.”
Competitors, such as Ryan and Joyce, are paired with a business advisor and an impact advisor, who review business and competition materials and provide feedback. 2015 competitor Andriet Tilfas, from Federated States of Micronesia, lauded recommendations from her Fish 2.0 business advisor and other participants that enabled her to extend her business lease for a longer term. Tilfas said, “I have seen and noticed positive impact, not only in terms of revenue increase but also the new networks establishment and relationships I am now having with other businesses within the region.”
Convinced that Fish 2.0 was a sound investment, we decided to sponsor the initiative again this year. Fish 2.0 provides capacity building and mentoring support to businesses throughout the various stages of the competition. The workshops that I attended in 2015 and 2016 brought together Pacific entrepreneurs who otherwise would not have met, sparking new partnerships, building practical business skills, and developing pitches to potential investors.
I was delighted to meet a number of the competitors in the 2017 cycle at a pre-competition workshop that I attended in Suva in November 2016. And I am very excited that this week (on November 7-8), three Pacific Island companies from Palau, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu will pitch at the 2017 Fish 2.0 competition finals at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. I’m looking forward to finding out how these companies fare at the competition.
Regardless of the outcome in Palo Alto, though, the results already speak for themselves. Fish 2.0 is helping to build a sustainable fisheries community that will pay dividends for business owners, investors, Pacific nations, and the ocean around us, far into the future. The U.S. State Department is proud to support sustainable economic growth in the Pacific as a sponsor of Fish 2.0.
About the Author: Judith Cefkin serves as the U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.