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SMHA’s Gulf Coast Fishers Loan Fund is a critical component of a much-needed support infrastructure for the seafood industry: a permanent source of affordable capital for fishers and fisher-related businesses/entrepreneurs that engages not-for-profit partners, traditional banking institutions and fishers/fisher-related businesses themselves in strengthening the sector.

SMHA has a long history of working with Louisiana’s traditional family fishers to develop new and innovative solutions to a challenging operating environment, focusing on developing new markets, improving advocacy and policy capacity, and – most recently – to recover from the impacts of five major hurricanes in seven years plus the man-made BP oil disaster.

SMHA created the concept for the Gulf Coast Fisher Loan Fund in the weeks immediately following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010. As a result of learnings from fishers and other impacted families (“stories from the field”), SMHA created a recoverable grant/loan fund for fishers built upon its successful Rural Recovery Response model. Families’ participation in the loan fund is determined not only by documented damages but by the family’s own capacity and desire to participate in its own recovery.

As part of the recovery process, SMHA helped fisher businesses become more sustainable by offering “honor loans” to replace crab traps or shrimp nets, purchase gear, or repair boats. Fishers signed an Honor Agreement promising, on their honor, to repay 90% of the “honor loan” at 1% interest when financially able. These honor loans were made without collateral – simply on a promise to repay what was loaned. In several cases, when fishers received their settlements from BP, they paid more than they owed so they could have the honor of building the fishers loan fund.

The success of the “honor loan” program serves as the basis for the Gulf Coast Fisher Loan Fund. The GCFLF will provide shrimpers, oyster fishers, fin fishers and crabbers – as well as the businesses that support or rely on the fishers –  access to affordable capital through an innovative partnership model. The GCFLF provides a tiered menu of financial instruments that meets the capital needs of diverse fisher/fisher-related businesses, including direct loans to fishers and a loan guarantee pool that incentivizes traditional lending institutions to make loans to a sector it historically has been unable to reach.

Not-for-profit partners provide referral services, technical assistance, and business planning support, helping ensure that fishers receive the capacity building activities and business training necessary to stabilize the fishing sector across the Gulf Coast and ensure faster recovery after the next disaster. The Gulf Coast Fisher Loan Fund will serve as a long-term source of recovery capital for the small businesses that depend on coastal lands and waters for their livelihoods – livelihoods that make the Gulf Coast a rich multicultural treasure.