Local Access and Local Control Over Who Fishes

By Brett Tolley, NAMA’s Community Organizer

I come from a long line of family-fishermen but I did not become a fisherman myself. In an unlikely career path (to my father at least) I became a Community Organizer instead. I worked for several years in Brooklyn, NY organizing tenants who were being forced out of their communities by gentrification. Folks who lived in neighborhoods for generations, who also worked there, all of a sudden couldn’t afford to live there anymore. Sound familiar?

Maybe it was my sub-conscience picking up on these issues as a young boy listening to my grandfather, uncles, and father talk fish at the family barbeque. Because to me, the same issues that folks face in a gentrifying community are the same issues that our family fishermen face today in New England. The cost to access the rights to fish are skyrocketing, quota is being concentrated into the hands of a few, and there are fewer opportunities for young people like myself to enter the industry.

In the fisheries world one of the biggest threats is access to fishing rights. Right now New England fisheries are going through a transition and issues like access to fish, who gets to fish, and the future of our fisheries are all at stake.

Fishermen like BG Brown talk about how in the past a person could work their way from a deck-hand to a captain to a boat-owner. Nowadays unless a deck-hand wins the lottery there is little chance they may one day own and operate a boat.

We believe that Who Fishes Matters and that means it’s not just about how much fish gets caught. Who catches the fish is equally important because of the ecological, social, and economic implications. If we look to the food community (fish is a food after all!) there are groups like the US Food Sovereignty Alliance who also believe that Who harvests the food matters. Access to food impacts all community members and should therefore be in the control of the local food providers as well as the community. This principal is also echoed in the Internationally Recognized Principals for Food Sovereignty.

How do we ensure local access and control over who fishes? 

In the housing world we promote local control/access with things like affordable housing programs, fair laws and policies, good paying jobs, education opportunities, and bottom-up community planning… to name just a few.

In the fisheries world we need the same. Tools like permit banks, protections for fleet diversity, fair prices to local fishermen, caps on the accumulation of fishing rights, and bottom-up government are all needed.

One tool in particular, permit banks, is relatively new to New England fisheries and are in the early stages of development. The model is similar to that of affordable housing — the intent is to provide affordable access that is anchored in a particular community. And like affordable housing it matters that those most impacted by policy are the same voices that shape the model moving forward.

Right now there’s a chance to weigh in and help shape the direction of permit banks in it’s early stages. The New England Fisheries Council is now accepting public comments on a rule that will effect State-Operated Permit Banks. To learn more and to weigh in click here. 

To get involved in other ways you can sign our petition, join our newsletter, or consider becoming part of the Fish Locally Collaborative.