Fighting For Racial Justice

While fishing communities as a whole are now facing a corporate coup, fishing communities of color have long withstood systemic racism and deliberate exclusion. Outside of fisheries, racial injustice is rife not just at fisheries but throughout the seafood system. NAMA is leading the charge with an anti-racist agenda that confronts racial inequity in the fishing industry and the sustainable seafood movement.

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The Problem

Systemic racial injustice continues to define our society, so it makes perfect sense that it shows up abundantly in the tentacles of our seafood system.

From the Wampanoag Tribes of New England to the Black watermen of the Gullah Geechee coasts, fishing communities of color have long faced exclusion by fisheries policies. Indigenous communities throughout North America fight an ongoing battle to maintain their treaty fishing rights. In addition, fisheries agencies have disproportionately awarded permits and leases to white fishermen. And, the number of fish that can be caught has been a constantly moving target and excuse to target coastal communities of color with unjust fines. Historically, legally acceptable catch methods have deliberately excluded fishermen of color. And today, “ecological protection” is often used to justify targeted removal of these communities.

Many Black and brown fishing communities in North America have also endured persistent aggression by their white fellow fishermen. For instance, some white locals resent Indigenous fishing rights and threaten to attack fishermen who fish in their traditional locations, which are sometimes enclosed in “private property.” Some communities of color have even had their equipment or catches destroyed by white fishermen. Others have been paid less for their catch at market. When these communities pursue discrimination cases, too often enforcement agencies don’t file charges -- even after finding unlawful racism and price-fixing.

Another huge tentacle of injustice in the seafood system relates to fish workers and fish crew, which are overwhelmingly people of color exploited by large companies. A majority of these workers, including in processing factories and shoreside facilities, are undocumented and have no recourse to enforce their rights. Recent immigration crackdowns in coastal communities have shed light on the people who perform the grueling work of processing our seafood under oppressive, slave-like conditions.

The Solution

Photo: Farm Aid

Years before it was popular or acceptable, NAMA had committed to an anti-racist agenda that centers equity. Now in 2022, as the leading organization addressing racial equity in the seafood chain, we are also committed to nurturing others in this work. To build this mission into every piece of our work, we ask, “How does racial equity show up here? If it doesn’t show up, how do we need to make that happen? If it does, how do we reinforce it?”

Our justice and equity mission prioritizes relationship-building with fishing communities of color and the leaders within these communities so that we can support their need for resources and highlight their expertise to our networks. This can manifest in a variety of ways. For instance, we look to folks of color in our network to help shape our policy goals and to testify before fisheries management councils and Congress. It can also manifest through the vendors we hire or recommend to our networks. NAMA always looks to people of color as potential collaborators.

Another big part of our work is disrupting public narratives. We use the platforms we have to amplify the  voices from within communities of color. That includes at leadership conferences, hearings, gatherings, workshops, or meetings within – and beyond – our network. Disrupting public narratives also means NAMA centers the stories, experiences, and expertise of racially marginalized communities in media interviews and opportunities.

Our anti-racist, equity-focused agenda also manifests in NAMA’s organizational makeup and approaches. We continue to examine how we run our organization, including how we gather information, what tools we use, who we seek as partners and vendors, and how our hiring process works. From our staff, board, and committees to the communities we amplify, NAMA remains committed  to the central question: “How does racial equity show up here?”