The Island Institute, a nonprofit organization located in Rockland, has announced the official launch of a new $2 million economic-development tool to help island and coastal entrepreneurs access working capital to start or expand their businesses, and to keep fishing permits in the hands of Maine groundfishermen.

The Island and Coastal Innovation Fund will make loans to jump-start or increase the capacity of island-based and remote coastal businesses, and take an equity position in transformative business models. The fund will also continue to purchase and hold groundfish permits, leasing them back to conservation-minded fishermen for gear research that can help protect fish stocks.

At a press conference held at the Portland Fish Exchange, Rob Snyder, the Institute’s executive vice-president, explained how the fund had evolved out of the organization’s extensive discussions with members of Maine’s 15 year-round island communities during the fall of 2009. Economic development had emerged as the number-one priority – so critical, in fact, that the Institute’s board of trustees had placed it first among its 2010-2013 strategic-plan goals.

“The fund is perhaps our most visible strategy for developing collaborative approaches to sustainable economic viability with an emphasis on diversifying island economies,” said Snyder in a news release. He also noted that the permit-banking component of the fund would prevent groundfish permits from leaving the state, incent the use of more selective fishing gear, and provide a way for future fishermen to enter the fishery.

Joe Higdon, chair of the ICIF’s oversight committee, said that “the creation of the Island and Coastal Innovation Fund is the result of a year and a half of work to ensure that we could operate such a fund in compliance with all federal and state regulations, and that we could raise sufficient capital to make a meaningful impact.”

One of the fund’s first recipients of investment capital was also on hand for the announcement. John Jordan, president of Calendar Islands Maine Lobster, expressed his thanks to the Island Institute board of trustees and staff for believing in the vision of a small group of Chebeague Island lobstermen, and for investing time and financial resources during the critical first phases of planning and operations.

For more information on the Island and Coastal Innovation Fund, please visit islandinstitute.org for a link to an ICIF video on YouTube or contact Aaron Fuchs, the Island Institute’s treasurer and CFO, at afuchs@islandinstitute.org or 207-594-9209 x124.