Eat Local Seafood (excerpt from summer 2008 newsletter)

Message from the new Coordinating Director, Niaz Dorry

(Excerpt from August 2008 newsletter.  Download full version here)

July 15th marked an important occasion: fishermen standing next to farmers at a FarmAid event. NAMA was invited to attend a press conference in Boston where FarmAid’s organizers announced this year’s fundraising concert on September 20 will be held in Mansfield, Massachusetts.

Okay, so it’s not the first time fishermen and farmers have stood next to each other – NAMA certainly has a history in this work as do others – but as far as I was concerned I was standing one step away from getting community based fishermen a place in the minds and hearts of those who share FarmAid’s goals – something I’ve imagined for 14 years. That and FishStock!

Fourteen years ago is when I first began working on fisheries issues as a Greenpeace oceans and fisheries campaigner. One thing became quite clear right off the bat: the fishing communities were at the same fork in the road that family farmers reached decades before. Facing the onslaught of agribusiness and their slogan “we are providing cheap food to the world’s hungry,” family farmers weren’t able to effectively promote their economic AND ecological advantages. Instead, agribusiness’ message of economic efficiency, replete with boardroom charts and graphs and congressional sway, created an arena in which farmers could not compete.

With that, agribusiness forwarded their “Green Revolution” and argued that they could produce [more) food for the growing world population more efficiently and, thus, [more] cheaply. Today, aquabusiness is promoting its “Blue Revolution” the same way. This time community based fishermen and the marine ecosystem are at stake.

With early warnings ignored, it wasn’t until years later that we discovered cheap food from the land comes at a pretty high price born by the soil; the farmers; long-term food security; loss of indigenous lands and economies; exposure to pesticides; increase in cancer, diabetes and birth defects; food sovereignty; decline in biodiversity; and, economic devastation in farming communities, to name a few.

It took awhile to see the many ripple affects of agribusiness’ take-over of the farming models. We shouldn’t wait that long to deal with the fishing ones.

In response to agribusiness, many began to fight back by building movements around areas that mattered to them most. Some focused on toxics in our food with the message: “go organic.” And that caught on. To the point that agribusiness actually caught onto the niche market possibilities and joined the organic bandwagon.

And yet we are not happy that our “go organic” message caught on. Why? What’s wrong with finding our organic food at big box stores as easily as – or maybe even easier than – our local food co-op? Why should we even care who puts the food in the market place?

It’s not that we can never be happy, it’s just that we are seeing other important dimensions of the agribusiness model – reflected also in today’s aquabusiness model: their scale of operations; where they spend their money; where their money goes; how do their host communities fare culturally, economically and ecologically; where their executives live; how they treat their workers; where they invest their money; how the rest of their products are manufactured; and whether any are made using child or forced labor; and, who is their market, amongst other issues.

We are learning that there are many factors involved in making an informed decision.

But how do you calculate these issues and put them on a package of strawberries? Or a cucumber? Or a chicken? Or a fish?

Which takes me back to my first impression of the fishing world fourteen years ago (and the birth of the FishStock dream!). Back then I thought fishermen and farmers would make a perfect union. And, of course, I dreamt of connecting with FarmAid and making sure fishermen get to tell their stories. And then I kept on dreaming and I thought FishStock would be the perfect way to tell the story and similarities. I even wrote a proposal to the band Phish! But that’s another story…

This spring after a semi-hiatus from working directly on fishing issues and spending two years at the Healthy
Building Network, I returned to the seas. This time as the new director of NAMA. And happy to be here following in Captain Craig Pendleton’s footsteps. People I haven’t seen or talked with in a while keep asking me “so what do you think should happen now?” And all I can think of is the same thing I thought needed to happen 14 years ago: face the fork in the road having learned the lessons from the fight of the family farmers in the face of agribusiness and demonstrate the multi-faceted benefits of community-based fishermen in the face of aquabusiness.

I’ve always believed if we can visualize our dreams, we can make them happen. Being at an announcement for when FarmAid is coming to town may not be a big deal to some. But I cannot ignore the information that tells me there is a deep connection between healthy, viable fishing communities, healthy and diverse marine ecosystems as well as the quality of the food we get from the seas. Today we came one step closer to the vision to collaborate with a population who knows what it means to support a community that feeds you in a way that doesn’t destroy the source of what feeds us. They know that paradigm shifts can happen.

To support family farmers now, FarmAid event’s speakers all offered one suggestion: Eat Local Food.

We’d like to make sure you include seasonal seafood on your list of local foods you seek.

You might be tempted by the all-you-can-eat plate of seafood at the chain restaurant around the corner, but the cheap shrimp comes at a cost not too different than the farmers, our bodies and the land have had to bear since the green revolution. Let’s nip the blue revolution in the bud.

Eat Local Seafood.

In communities such as Port Clyde, Maine, Bath, Maine, and Carteret County, North Carolina, Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) are fishing locally and selling their fish locally to their community shareholders. Modeled after Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), CSFs give the fisherman the capital s/he needs to keep their business going without having to take their market out of town and, on top of that, get more for less catch. In Port Clyde, the Midcoast Fishermen’s Association’s shrimp CSF paid fishermen $1 more per pound of shrimp and was still less expensive for the consumer than at the grocery store. Their CSF has been so successful they have added deliveries and species with groundfish being offered to shareholders this year.

NAMA is proud to have worked with the Port Clyde fleet to set up the first CSF in this region. Our goal is to move more consumers who choose to eat seafood towards their local fishermen. This shift is particularly important in communities where a new, stable market can make a difference between poverty and self-sufficiency. In places like Washington County, Maine where Penobscot East and Cobscook Bay Resource Centers work to rebuild fishing communities once hosting bustling ports with a robust groundfish fleet now the highest percentage of households in poverty in the state of Maine.

By eating fish caught locally, not only do we eat fresh fish, fish native to the regions we live in, during the seasons they taste best and in harmony with reproductive cycles so we don’t threaten the species survival but we also ensure the economic health of local, fishing communities. The same things we are demanding of our fruit and vegetables, and animal products and hoping for our family farms.

We also send a loud message that we know that if we truly care about the health of our oceans it matters how, where and when we fish; and, who catches the fish that end up on our dinner plates.

So put those red, yellow, green seafood cards away, and whenever faced with the decision of what seafood to eat remember:

Eat Local Seafood!