Green Jobs on the Blue Ocean

A message from Niaz Dorry
Coordinating Director

When I first started working on fisheries issues, one thing became clear right off the bat: this is not a jobs vs. environment issue. Saving the oceans doesn’t have to lead to putting fishermen out of work. In fact, if we spend our resources, stimulus funds, and overall energy ensuring fisheries policies are community and ecosystem based, we can actually save the fish and create more jobs in coastal fishing communities.

As I dove further into the fishing world, I realized many fishermen cared more about the oceans, knew more about its ecology than most folks working on marine conservation, and had better ideas about what it would take to fish while protecting marine resources for future generations than most policy experts.

With all the talk about a green collar economy today from the new Obama administration – especially today as the Green Jobs Expo is kicked off in DC – and the discussions around how best to spread the economic stimulus package, it is imperative that green fishing jobs be a part of these plans. The current version of the stimulus package proposes over $150 million that in the wrong hands could pave the way for fewer conservation minded fishermen on the water and rapid industrialization of fisheries in New England. This is the wrong direction if our goal is saving the fish.

Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that all fishermen are perfect.But there are  fishermen who make a living through fishing and then there is an industry that wants to make a killing. Think family farmers vs. agribusiness. Think renewable clean energy vs. dirty non-renewable energy. We already know the effects of bad energy practices on our health, economy and planet; and, industrial scale food production on our environment, communities, and natural resources. So while not perfect, I rather see those with the potential to do right by the oceans fishing than those who see it simply as the next commodity to be mined.

The work of removing sea life from our oceans and bringing it to our plates must be based on sustainability and conservation, not the best return on someone’s investment. As family farmers have been pushed off the land due to poor policy decisions that favor consolidation, industrialization and global exports, community-based fishermen have been pushed out of the sea.
Current fisheries policies don’t address issues of scale and ecological responsibility. If we are serious about saving the fish but aren’t telling the world to stop eating seafood, we need policies that perpetuate the most number of jobs in coastal communities while ensuring the smallest ecological footprint. As they stand, today’s fisheries policies turn a blind eye to the health of the ocean ecosystem, appropriate scale of fishing practices and importance of coastal fishing economies.

And it’s not just the fishermen who should be part of the green collar economy discussion. The right boat builders, processors, local marketers and the entire fishing community are part of the ecological and economic fabric that can keep the oceans healthy while keeping at bay the threats of industrialization of our marine resources.

Stimulus packages, fisheries regulations and marine conservation policies should support and promote:

  • Fishermen who pledge to fish sustainably, protect the marine environment and use gear that catch target fish, not unwanted or endangered species.
  • Fishermen who are conne cted to a community and not part of a globally mobile, industrial fishing fleet.
  • Green boat, fishing gear and engine designers who focus on fuel efficiency, green-gear compatibility, on-board waste storage or recycling, environmentally healthy, non-toxic materials.
  • Seafood marketing experts that focus on transforming markets from export to local and provide access to seasonal, affordable, nutritious food that travel a short distance to reach consumers.
  • Direct marketing that allows fishermen to catch less fish for a higher value, while consumers pay less than at the grocery store chains.
  • Processing plants to serve local and regional markets and reverse trends of transporting fish thousands of miles to reach our plates.
  • Shoreside maintenance facilities that service green designs without polluting – e.g. boat yards, marine fuel stations, green ports.
  • Multi-faceted marine ports that are versatile and adaptable; not dependent on a single fishery or industry for economic sustainability.

So as we forge ahead with creating the parameters of a green collar economy, let’s make sure we don’t leave the oceans out to dry.

All photos courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce. In order from top to bottom: William B. Folsom, NMFS. Stone crab fishermen loading their traps on board. Islamorada, Florida Keys, Florida; William B. Folsom, NMFS. A shrimp boat heads out for the fishing grounds. Aransas Pass, Texas; Commander John Bortniak, NOAA Corps (ret.). Fishing boats at Cordova, Alaska; and, Dory used as purse seine boat fishing for herring on the Maine coast.