Future of Fish Asks Hard Questions in The Big Easy

The pace slows down as soon as you arrive in the Big Easy. New Orleans (or more accurately ‘Nawlins’) is legend for its warm nights, southern hospitality, and easy jazz. To hurry through the place is to ignore its warm and inviting charm, and miss the countless musicians lingering in doorways—or dancing in the streets. So we took our time over oysters on the half shell, shrimp and grits, bloody marys, and gumbo.

And then the workshop began.

Convened by our client, Future of Fish, and National Geographic, 30 experts were “collected” in New Orleans for a two-day workshop designed to identify disruptive opportunities for ‘Funding Innovation in Fisheries.’ The assembled group presented an extraordinary cohort, whose work reaches from one end of this dizzyingly complicated supply chain all the way to the other—from “ship to shelf,” as one delegate put it.

The group included fishermen and financiers, foundations and think tanks, academics and ‘creative agitators,’ people selected specifically because they look at the problems facing fish differently. As we began our work together, three things quickly became clear:

  1. The most complex problem facing the world’s fisheries is the significant number of complex problems! Layer upon layer of complication—from the difficulty of counting fish stocks accurately to a systemic bias to mislabeling on grocers’ shelves, the fish supply chain is surely the most complicated of them all. To understand it is challenging enough; to change it requires exceptional creativity and determination.
  2. Great minds like a think. The incredibly well designed and facilitated agenda (kudos David Sawyer!) served to provide the space and time for 30 sharp minds to focus on the problems at hand. Few workshops catalyse such hard work, in such a brief period of time. Intense.
  3. In the face of complex problems, disruptively innovative ideas emerge when you’re not looking. As I’ve written before, complexity forestalls analytical approaches to problem solving. It was proven again in New Orleans that the right answers emerge when good people, with sound intent, focus their imaginations on redressing aspects of the problem.

The ideas that came out of our two days together in New Orleans are promising, even in some cases profound. As individual delegates take them forward in the coming months, we’ll share insights into those projects. We hope that some will thrive, catalysing positive change in the way fisheries are working. Undoubtedly, some will fail, and we’ll learn lessons from them, too.

Ultimately, in the face of the complex challenges, the worlds of a bright blue animated fish come to mind: “Just keep swimming.”

The Future of Fish is a breakthrough accelerator for entrepreneurs in the seafood industry. They select, develop and help secure partners and/or funding for companies whose work is focused on sustainability and traceability, and who are willing to collaborate with other entrepreneurs to drive change.

National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative is focused on restoring the health and productivity of the ocean through a variety of innovative approaches and partnerships that will 1) magnify the application of marine reserves, the most powerful tool for ocean restoration, 2) replace the “race to the bottom” system of fishing with one that generates long-term economic, social, and environmental benefits, and 3) raise awareness worldwide to the benefits of creating marine protected areas and restoring fisheries.