SMFS' parent company, SMHA, has a long history of working with Louisiana’s traditional family fishers – helping them find ways to survive in the face of regulations that favored "big business” and/or recreational interests, competition from low-priced (and lower quality) imports, and – more 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 established after the 2005 hurricanes: families’ participation determined not only by documented damages but also based in community intelligence and the family’s own capacity and desire to participate in its own recovery.
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 that will provide shrimpers, oyster fishers, fin fishers and crabbers access to affordable capital through an innovative partnership model. The permanent source of affordable capital combined with the capacity-building activities associated with the Fund will provide small-boated fishers with access to affordable capital that makes building their businesses and stabilizing the sector possible while ensuring fishers are properly trained and their boats are ready when the need for "first responders” arises.
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.