Slow Fish in the Americas: A Big Wave for Good, Clean, and Fair Seafood

By Brett Tolley, Community Organizer for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance

* blog reposted from the Slow Fish 2016 Website 

For me, helping to build the Slow Fish movement over the past couple years has been an enormous privilege. Coming from a four-generation fishing family and now organizing with fishing communities around the country, I know Slow Fish’s time has come. For the sake of our ocean, water ways, coastal communities, and food system, we need all-hands-on-deck.

We need Slow Fish.

What is Slow Fish you might ask? Its an international movement promoting an alternative to fast food and the globalized industrialization of our seafood system. It strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine. It strengthens relationships between fishermen*, the public, and those along the seafood value chain. And encourages fishing and eating practices in line with good, clean, and fair seafood valuesThe wave is building and we’re excited to invite you to join us for the first Slow Fish international gathering in North America!

On March 10-13 community based fishermen, chefs, youth leaders, Slow Food members, and more from around the continent will be in New Orleans for four days of storytelling, network movement building, delicious locally caught seafood, and rockin’ music. More details on the website.

But the Slow Fish wave to the U.S. didn’t happen over night. Like any wave, it started with a few small ripples …

2010 Terra Madre: I was part of a U.S. delegation that included 
the Penobscot East Resource Center (PERC) and 
MacArthur Genius Award recipient Ted Ames

In 2010 I met Slow Fish International Coordinator and true revol-oceanary, Michèle Mesmain. Michèle’s passion and vision had already brought together a diverse international crew of fishermen, local catch marketers, marine and social scientists, and others interested in sustainable fisheries. This group taught me that challenges facing family fishermen are similar around the world, a lesson that certainly remains relevant today. 

We’re seeing policy trends toward privatizing the ocean commons and concentrating access into the hands of a few. This allows high volume-low value fisheries to put too much pressure on fish stocks while opening the door to rampant seafood fraud. Non-fishing impacts like climate change and ocean acidification are affecting fish habitat and spawning patterns. Additionally, there is a complete lack of transparency around who, what, where, when, and how our fish is caught.

In light of these problems, and in the words of Oregon-based fisherman Aaron Longton … “we need a revol-ocean”. 

Traditional crawfish boil at the Slow Food National Gathering in New 
Orleans. Shrimp and crawfish provided by local fisherman Lance Nacio.

In 2013 I was invited to present the Slow Fish campaign at the Slow Food USA National Gathering in New Orleans. I learned that Slow Fish events were already happening all around the country, from the Crab Fest in San Francisco to the Shellabration in Long Island, NY. However, these collaborations weren’t connected … ripples unable to form a wave.

Spencer Montgomery, another revol-oceanary friend of mine, helped synchronize some of those ripples. At the time, Spencer was the National Youth Coordinator for Slow Food USA. Seeing the potential for a Slow Fish campaign, he went back to his home state of New Hampshire and organized a two-week Slow Fish event with other students around the region, local fishermen, chefs, and Slow Food members. Shorty afterward they got the University of New Hampshire, which is among the largest food purchasers in the state, to sign onto a set of Slow Fish Seafood Principles, committing the institution to shift millions of dollars in seafood purchases. 

Students show the love during the first student-led Seafood 
Throwdown at the New Hampshire Fishtival. Click to watch video

In 2014, together with west coast revol-oceanaries, Kevin Scribner, Sarah Shoffler and others, we formed a chartering committee to help envision a broader Slow Fish network and brought our ideas to the Terra Madre gathering in Italy. Many community-based fishermen who’d been part of Slow Fish over the years played key roles in charting the course ahead: Shannon Eldredge in Massachusetts; Jeremy Brown in Alaska; Padi Anderson in New Hampshire; Lance Nacio in Louisiana; and Rob Pursor of the Suquamish Tribe in Washington State; just to name a few. Plus Dave Adler and the crew from Slow Fish Canada!

As ripples continue to converge we work to honor our food producers, protect the land and waters we love, increase food access, and celebrate our cultural and fisheries diversity. We all want justice on our plate. And we want to enjoy the pleasures of eating and building community. Join us!

L to R: Fisherman Shannon Eldredge, fisherman Russell Kingman,
University of Rhode Island professor Seth Macinko and Brett Tolley
being interviewed at Slow Food radio during 2014 Terra Madre.

JOIN our Facebook Event Page

SUPPORT our Indigogo fundraising campaign

HOST a Fisher-Chef Alliance dinner

* note: the term ‘fisherman’ is used to refer to persons directly involved in fish harvesting. While not gender neutral, it is the preferred term by most men and women in our area who work as harvesters of fish.