Rare’s Solution Search – We won! 

Washington, DC

February 8, 2012

I am thrilled to announce that Tim McClanahan and I won Rare’s Solution Search with our entry “Bycatch Escape Gaps for Fish Traps.” HUGE thanks to everyone who voted. Co-sponsored by National Geographic, the competition received over 100 entries from 48 countries, and over 5,000 votes were cast. In Rare’s words:

“Solution Search rewards innovative conservation successes in communities where the need is greatest. In the first of many searches Rare and its partners seek solutions to help remedy an environmental crisis that is quickly becoming a humanitarian issue: the depletion of global fish stocks.”

The two runners up had wonderful solutions: Community Stewardship of Raja Ampat’s Reefs by the Misool Baseftin Foundation, and Off the Hook Community Supported Fishery (CSF).  CSFs are designed on the model of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) where customers by a share of the crop, in this case catch, and get a weekly delivery of whatever is in season. I’m particularly excited to see how this idea spreads because from what the Off the Hook’s folks said, there is much more demand for CSFs than there is supply.

Brett Jenks (CEO of Rare) and his team used this competition as a way to engage the public on the issue of fishing sustainability, gather good ideas from around the world, and bring attention and resources the top ideas in the hopes that these solutions, these success stories, will be replicated.


To further these goals, Rare hosted a half-day workshop for competition finalists, NGOs, federal agency representatives (NOAA, USAID). The winners presented their solutions followed by a group discussion. Here are the key questions discussed and responses provided:

1. What can we learn and adapt from these solutions to achieve marine conservation?

  • Response: Combine conservation and sustainable use. Build relationships between all stakeholders.

2. What would it take to bring these solutions to scale?

  • Response: Build relationships with the communities in places where we’d like to scale. Use incentives (economic, social, access). Tailor success stories appropriately for the audience.

3. How can we continue to uncover solutions in marine conservation?

  • Response: Listen. Pay attention to what is wrong. Dig into the Solution Search database. Develop partnerships across solutions to create additive solutions.

4. What types of partnerships do we need to achieve our goals?

  • Response: Value chain partnerships. Partnerships between stakeholders with goals of conservation and of sustainable use.

The need to bring together all relevant parties and foster productive collaborations was stressed repeatedly. I agree that a holistic, inter-disciplinary, cross-sector approach is critical to addressing ocean conservation.

The workshop was followed by an award dinner at which I had the pleasure of sitting between Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sandra Whitehouse (advisor to The Ocean Conservancy). We had an interesting chat about the politics of and need for better marketing of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning, a contentious aspect of the National Ocean Policy.


When Tim and I accepted the award, he presented Brett with a copy of his new book “Adapting to a Changing Environment. Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change.” I stayed away from the podium, but when I arrived home thought of what I wish I had said. I would have handed Brett an escape gap and said, “I think of this as a symbol that while ocean conservation problems can be large, they can be solved, and they solutions can be quite simple.”


Unsustainable fishing takes fish out of the ocean faster than they can reproduce (often damaging the habitat in the process, thereby hindering population recovery). Solutions to overfishing include limiting the number of fish caught, requiring gear modifications, and establishing marine protected areas. In practice each of these solutions is confronted with the complex realities of food insecurity, global warming and a changing environment, population size, culture and traditions, race, class, and gender. Therefore, while the solutions themselves can be simple, implementing them is often fraught with complexities.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the depletion of fish stocks, this competition showed that not only is a wealth of solution ideas out there, they are already being tested and used. And my excitement about that eclipses the excitement of this being the first research or conservation award I have ever won. Now, at Brett would say, “Scale! Replicate!”

For more on the Solution Search, see the press release.

For more on Rare, see this recent New York Times piece.