Badlands – Badfish

By Niaz Dorry, NAMA‘s Coordinating Director
I got pulled over in Illinois. I’ve been driving across the country with my dog Hailey heading to BALLE’s national conference, amongst other stops.
Getting pulled over is never fun. The highway patrol officer asked me what I was up to… was I on vacation or what? I told him I was headed to Bellingham, Washington to give a talk on fisheries issues. He asked for the typical stuff… my driver’s license and registration. But he also asked for my business card. I gave him a card and one of our seafood wallet cards. He went off to his car as I anxiously awaited my fate.
He came back and handed me my stuff plus a written warning (you have to read the whole blog to find out what I was warned about). Then he went on to talk about fisheries issues. He said the reason he was interested was that along the Mississippi River, where he lives, small scale commercial fishermen are losing their businesses to fish farms, imported seafood and big chain stores and with that has come loss of tradition, livelihoods, access to good local fish, businesses and a social element of their communities which are deeply connected to the river’s environment. Sound familiar? It seems even in the mid-west who fishes matters.
We went on to discuss what’s going on around the world and how fishing communities everywhere are facing the same problems.
I was grateful to only have a warning and went on my way. As I drove through the mid-west stopping at various places for meals, I couldn’t help noticing the seafood items on the menus… “farm-raised white fish” was the most predominant item. How much more generic can we get? White fish? What is that? What happened to recognizing our food? Do we put “round red globes” on the menu instead of tomatoes? Or “red meat” instead of beef or lamb?
Going through South Dakota was one of the highlights of the trip. Having never been there before, I was looking forward to taking a couple of days to hike through the Badlands and the Black Hills. As I expected, the place took my breath away. The history and scenery was amazing. I could imagine what the place looked liked when the buffalo were running free, the original people taking care of the land and there were no billboards advertising all you can eat shrimp. Almost all the seafood advertised in this area comes either from factory farms or factory fishing operations.
Spearfish Creek Canyon, South Dakota
It was on the menu of a tiny little place called Cheyenne Crossing that I noticed particular attention to where their seafood comes from. Alaskan cod and halibut were the main items featured, which are not bad considering the Pacific Northwest is the closest place to this part of the world where marine based fishing is taking place. So in many ways, they were offering as local as they could. But Cheyenne Crossing is right on the Spearfish Creek where fishing used to be a mainstay. Mining in the Black Hills affected the river’s health and it has taken years for it to be considered healthy. Recreational fishing happens on the Creek, but I couldn’t tell if there was any fish from the Creek actually on any menus. Which took me back to the stop in Illinois and the story the highway patrol officer told me about their local fisheries.
I realized even more the importance of our work on fleet diversity and maintaining healthy marine fisheries that feed our food systems, our communities, our economies and our lives without undermining the health of the ocean.
By the way, I was pulled over for following too closely. I didn’t want to argue about how the car in front me pulled in from the left lane once s/he saw the highway patrol car in the median. Talking about whether it would have been safer for me to break suddenly or pull abruptly in the left lane was not going to be as much fun or productive as the conversation I ended up having with the officer. Talking about fisheries instead put us on a level playing field and created a connection between two ships passing on the Illinois toll road.