How our illegal fishing investigations became self-funding

Last week we launched a new initiative named #OceanCrowd which enables 75% of the necessary funding for our undercover investigations to be raised through participation. How does it work? We question its creator Wietse van der Werf.

Illustration by Sally Madden

What is the #OceanCrowd?

#OceanCrowd is a unique crowdfunding platform that is run by our volunteer fishing inspectors, known as Citizen Inspectors. They give two weeks a year of their time, take part in a four day training and are then deployed as part of an undercover investigation for ten days. Because by the time they are qualified inspectors people have already made such a committment to be involved, they are very driven to crowdfund a contribution towards the costs of the investigation they join. This is where the #OceanCrowd comes in.

Why crowdfunding?

Many environmental programmes where you can volunteer in field work or data collection ask for a contribution from participants. We could have asked for a simple payment but the way we now run #OceanCrowd makes the participatory nature of crowdfunding do wonders. First of all it makes fundraising a shared responsibility for all those in our community. This minimises the need for traditional costly fundraising approaches such as street collections or office based fundraising staff. Secondly it enables us to access potential donors we would typically not be engaged with as people encourage their friends and family to contribute.

So it builds on those personal networks?

Yes and I would go even further to explain it as a type of emotional participation. Chances are that your mother, brother, nephew or colleagues at work are not as passionate about marine conservation as you are. They will be keen to support a loved one in their efforts but less likely to support this type of activism out of their own initiative. As those small networks of friends and family support those close them to join our investigations, it creates a stronger sense of collective ownership over our work. Then there is also the added benefit of those they have supported to report back on the outcomes of our efforts, in person.

And it makes you less reliant on traditional funders?

This new approach turns a project like an investigation that traditionally would be funded by one or two grant giving foundations, into an activity supported by hundreds. Say 20 Citizen Inspectors join an investigation, now it is likely that 300-400 people end up funding it. #OceanCrowd is enabling us to build strong community around ocean conservation.

Don’t you still need those grants?

Absolutely! Being more financially independent and opening up new avenues of funding is all about making us stronger and our model more sustainable as we increase our donor base. However, the reality is that most grant giving foundations have their own focuses and objectives. As there is less of a need for us to appease these donors’ specific interests, such as with campaigns to protecting more charismatic species or focus on specific geographical regions, we can run investigations on those issues that aren’t as popular, yet equally important. Examples of this are our work on illegal fish aggregating devices and the illegal shellfish trade.

What are your investigations focused on the coming months?

We typically do not announce where we are heading before our investigations but you can be sure that we will be out with increased numbers of Citizen Inspectors to scale up monitoring capacity along Europe’s shores. It’s all in a bid to locate illegal fishing and by working in direct partnership with enforcement agencies, we hope to secure further confiscations of illegal fishing gears and prosecution of those breaking the law.

Seems you have a good thing going with the crowdfunding!

Crowdfunding is all about involving ordinary people in realising ideas and making people feel ownership over the projects they support. If anything, the enthusiasm of ordinary people and their participation is what we need now more than ever in ocean conservation and the #OceanCrowd is a powerful tool for us to make this happen.

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