At the intersection of marine conservation and social, economic, environmental and food justice

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Kathy Ozer's Hat

A reflection by Niaz Dorry on the process of stepping into a new role. Dorry is NAMA's Coordinating Director and as of May 1st is also the director of the National Family Farm Coalition. NAMA and NFFC entered a shared leadership model on May 1st, 2018.

At the NFFC winter meeting in late February, after a long day of productive talking and planning, Farm Aid Executive Director Carolyn Mugar came up to me and said, “I have an idea and you’re not going to like it.” Hmmm… that’s an ominous way to start a conversation, I thought, but hey, it’s Carolyn. Maybe she’s going to tell me we can get a fisherman on the Farm Aid stage this year! Or the SeaFire Kids are part of this year’s line up? Or I get to smoke a joint with Willie Nelson on his bus?

But no… instead, she asked if NAMA had ever thought of sharing leadership and resources with NFFC. Again… hmmm… what? Although I wasn’t surprised by what Carolyn was asking, I wasn’t expecting it. My first thought was that I don’t want the family farmers to think we – those of us doing fisheries work – are trying to derail or usurp their power and agenda. I’ve seen that happen too often to want to be “that person.” And then there was another issue: the expectation of having to wear Kathy Ozer’s hat. Will I ever measure up in the eyes of those who knew her and worked so closely with her for decades?

On the fishing front, Carolyn reminded me of how engaged everyone was during the morning session when Amy MacKown of the NAMA team discussed the Fish Bill. The similarities with family farmers’ struggles -- just on the policy level -- were enough for everyone to be nodding their heads in unison. Carolyn was right. And, honestly, I already knew that, deep down inside. Still. I had to think about this.

On the Kathy front, I needed divine intervention.
My head was still swimming the next morning, the final day of the NFFC board meeting. David Battey, Kathy’s husband, came into the room. There was palpable emotion in his presence. He had a brown paper bag in his hand, and he walked over and sat next to me. With tears in his eyes, he took a green hat out of the bag and said, “I think Kathy would want you to have this.”

As if my mind wasn’t already blown by the conversation with Carolyn… I hadn’t told anyone about that -- how did he know?? I turned to David with disbelief.

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “Are you really giving me Kathy’s hat?”
He said, “Yes, she would want you to have it.”
I took the hat, and in a clownish fashion, wore it for a little while -- crying most of the time. I tried to explain the gift from David to those in the room without giving away what was really going through my mind. I didn’t tell anyone of the conversation with Carolyn. I just wore the hat. Which didn’t fit, by the way. I had to tweak it quite a bit just to get it to sit on my head properly.

The tweaking of that hat became a metaphor for what happened over the course of the next few weeks. I went into an extreme soul searching mode, and I thank many of my dear friends – especially Paul Bogart, Harriet Barlow, and Tom Kelly – for their ears and sage advice. They helped me get through my insecurities, tackle the “what if”s, apply a creative lens to the situation, declare radical acceptance, and finally step onto the road.

What I learned along the way is that Kathy’s hat won’t fit me. Not as she wore it. Not to (non-violently) beat the metaphor to death, but the truth is that our heads are shaped differently. Kathy’s head left an indelible impression on the movement for a more just food system that honors family farmers. None other can erase or replace that impression.

Finally at peace with the idea, the next steps of the process – board level conversations, developing plans, talking to key stakeholders, etc. – seemed to fall into place. As Jeremy Phillips, who has been expertly and thoughtfully guiding us through this process, put it:

“The (non-profit) Universe is aligning behind this!!”

The boards of both organizations expressed willingness to go where most won’t. As Pat Sweeney of Western Organization of Resource Councils said recently: we are making the road by walking. The boards decided to walk.

The day after both boards’ votes on the shared leadership proposal was cast, David called me. I thought maybe he had heard something through the grapevine? He said he was calling to see how things were going. How was NFFC doing? Have we found a new ED yet? I kept asking him if he had talked to anyone, and he said no… that’s why he was calling. He hadn’t heard anything.

So I told him the whole story, and the role he played in my taking the conversation with Carolyn seriously by giving me Kathy’s hat the next day. And now here he is calling the next day after the decision is made. He is clearly tuned into the right signals! His response to the news was that Kathy would be really happy about it and that he is fully supportive.

I wrote a note to both NFFC and NAMA boards and staff about this because this kind of stuff doesn’t happen every day. How Rosanna Marie Neil, who has been serving as NAMA’s indefatigable policy consultant the past few months, responded to that note says it all:

“I'm amazed at how you were shown that she literally wants you to wear her hat, and her husband called to offer his support the day after the proposal was approved.”

We got our divine intervention. Anchors away and onward we go, and we know that Kathy has our back.

Kathy in the famous green hat with her husband David.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Talking Fisheries Activism with Naseegh Jaffer

Dateline: Cape Town, South Africa
Author: Paul Molyneaux

The International Planning Committee (IPC) comprised of representatives from grassroots organizations around the world, brings the voices of small scale food producers, including fishermen, to the highest levels of global policy making. The committee meets every two years and this year was unique in that representatives from the United States, including this reporter, joined those from the officially recognized regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, South Pacific, and Latin America.

As a fisheries focused delegate from the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, I spoke with Naseegh Jaffer who is secretary of the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) and a member of the IPC working group on fisheries, about how U.S. fishermen can participate in global policy making that will affect them whether they realize it or not.

The first issue that needs to be settled as U.S. and Canadian organizations join this global policy making process through the IPC, is whether they will form a new officially recognized region of North America, or join with Latin America as The Americas.

“The first consideration is who will be join the IPC,” said Naseegh, a native of South Africa. “Organizations that work globally like the WFFP, should be the first to become members. Other organizations that work regionally need to consider whether it is important for them to have a global voice, and if it is, they too should join.”

Once U.S. and Canadian organizations decide they want to participate they will need to think about how they want to organize regionally.

“This is a political discussion that they will need to have,” said Naseegh. North America is better resourced and more deeply rooted in the neo-liberal agenda. The North Americans could join with Latin America and as one region, but I think it would be good as its own region. It would be proving to the world that there are progressive organizations in North America, and this is something we need to acknowledge, support and encourage.”

The WFFP that Naseegh leads represents many small scale fishing people around the world, many of whom have seen their livelihoods threatened by things like pollution from oil drilling, privatization and consolidation of fishing rights, and a host of other ills often driven by multinational corporations based in the United States.

“You are living in the heart of the beast,” says Naseegh. “You need to speak out.”

At present two umbrella organizations represent small-scale fishing people on the world stage, the WFFP and its sister organization, the World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fish Workers (WFF) lead in part by Arthur Bogason of Iceland. Both organizations sprang from one that was formed in Delhi, India in 1997.

“It’s okay that we are two movements,” says Naseegh. “That way we get more seats. We’re not competing. We work together. Of course it wasn’t always like that. There was a lot of animosity when we first split, and some people didn’t talk for a long time.”

There are two stories to the split, and they belong to leaders: Pedro Avendaño and the late Thomas Kocherry. According to the story I received from Arthur Bogason it was over the very issue of regions. Arthur and Pedro’s contingent felt that North and South America should each get a vote in the original organization, but Arthur felt that Thomas Kocherry and his contingent from the developing world, wanted to weaken the power of the developed world by giving North and South only one vote, as “the Americas.” When the organization voted in favor of Kocherry, Avendaño and his group walked out.

Naseegh heard a different story from Kocherry, who said that the split was over the matter of scale. “What Thomas said was that he and Pedro Avendaño of Chile got into an argument over what was small-scale. Thomas felt that if your boat had an inboard engine and could go far out, it was not small-scale. He said only your small boats with outboards and rowing were truly small-scale. They could not agree, so they split.”

Avendaño and Bogason went on to lead the WFF, and Kocherry’s group formed the WFFP. “That’s in the past,” says Naseegh, who believes both groups have always been fighting the same fight.

“The point is we have to look at who has been using a resource for hundreds or thousands of years and protect their right to continue to do so.” Naseegh argues that the large extractive industries, industrial trawlers, oil rigs and other extractive industries must be controlled in ways that protect the ability of small scale fishing people to harvest resources close to shore. “You can’t have extractive industries without pollution, habitat degradation,” he says, noting the social and cultural degradation that small scale fishing communities experience when they lose their resources. “The big extractive industries, the big boat, these guys are killing us,” says Naseegh. “And because they take control of the resource and have the money, they are elevated and we are nothing.”

Naseegh was surprised to hear that Maine fishermen face challenges such as encroachment by aquaculture and wind farms, habitat degradation, and a challenges to local control of the intertidal zone and working waterfront. “This is the same as us, you need to join us,” he says. “It’s not hard.”

According to Naseegh an organization that wants to join the WFFP must be composed primarily of fishermen. “And the organization to be nominated by a member organization, which is easy. Then they must write a letter of motivation that tells how they hope to benefit from being part of a global organization and what they bring to us. Also they must have a constitution consistent with our values and mission to protect small scale fisheries.”

Many fishermen don’t realize that policy formulated at the UN often influences national and regional policies, which can sometimes lead to conflict on the water. By being part of the WFFP—or WFF—Naseegh believes, even the smallest scale fishermen—clammers, wrinkle pickers and wormers for example—can gain a voice at international forums. “And when you fight your local fights, you will have solidarity. We will support you and voice that support. If an organization is community based and supports democratic principles, we would welcome them,” says Naseegh.

This piece was originally featured in the April 2018 issue of Fisherman's Voice.

Learn more about the World Forum of Fisher Peoples by checking out their website here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NOAA vs. The Codfather

This blog is by NAMA's Coordinating Director, Niaz Dorry.

The sentencing of Carlos Rafael - who self identifies as the Codfather - is currently scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, September 25th & 26th, 2017.

If you haven't yet heard about the case of the biggest permit owner, fleet operator, and controller of the seafood system in the North East I encourage you to check out this in-depth piece in Mother Jones Magazine and this short piece on NPR's Morning Edition. 

Although Mr. Rafael has admitted to fisheries violations going back 30 years, the crimes he was arrested for last year involve more recent incidences. He has pled guilty to 27 felony counts including misreporting fish, quota manipulations, money laundering, and more. Thirteen of his groundfish permits - what he needs to catch fish like Atlantic cod, haddock, flounders, pollock, etc. - are involved in his illegal activities and are actually still fishing. Yes. You read that right. More on that below. 

Even though he has a longer trail of violations, what makes his recent crimes interesting is they occurred during the period of time that the Catch Share policy for New England groundfish has been in effect. Since the 2010 implementation of Catch Shares, Mr. Rafael has been able to amass more and more control of the region's groundfish quota and permits because the system adopted by NOAA set no boundaries for how much power any one entity could have. From the NOAA chart below you can see that fewer entities were controlling more of the groundfish pie as time under Catch Shares went on. By 2013 just 11 entities controlled 50% of all groundfish revenue. In fact, by 2013 the codfather alone controlled 25%.

2013 NOAA Final Report on the Performance of Groundfish
NOAA is complicit in Mr. Rafael's crimes because they made some huge mistakes along the way. As I lay out below, they have a chance to redeem themselves. But first, let's walk through what NOAA did or didn't do that brings us to today.

First, NOAA's decision to not put any limits in place around how much anyone entity can control was in direct rejection of public comments and fishermen's advice that such a free-for-anyone-who-can-pay-for-it approach to quota management would put the fishery in the hands of a few, and some of those few may have other priorities than the health of the ocean and all fishermen. 

Instead we heard from NOAA, some in the environmental community, and others in the fishing industry who were positioning themselves to get a big piece of a newly privatized fishery was that who owns the rights to fish is not critical to achieving ecological outcomes. As long as someone owns those rights we are to believe that there is an implicit guarantee that they'll be better stewards of the fish they "own." Yeah... right...

NOAA could've fixed things by adopting tight restrictions around consolidation in their recent ruling to amend the Catch Share policies. They didn't. They left the door wide open for others like Mr. Rafael - and Rafael himself - to keep amassing power at the expense of the fish and fishermen.

Once Mr. Rafael was arrested, NOAA could've suspended all his fishing rights, if not taken them away all together. They have taken similar measures and sometimes more for infractions that pale in comparison of what Mr. Rafael admitted to committing. But NOAA had an out: they needed proof.

When Mr. Rafael pled guilty to his crimes, NOAA had their proof. But they didn't stop his permits from fishing. Believe it or not, the 13 permits implicated in the IRS sting operation are still owned by Mr. Rafael AND still fishing under the Sector 9 of the Catch Share program.

NOAA has one more opportunity to save face, this time as part of Mr. Rafael's sentencing. Hopefully, the court will ensure maximum fine and jail time. As for NOAA's responsibility, nothing short of complete seizure of Mr. Rafael's assets are acceptable if NOAA expects fishermen - and the rest of us - to take their authority and concern for the ocean seriously.

In our victim's statement submitted to the court two weeks ago, in addition to maximum fine and jail time, we made the following restitution recommendations that NOAA needs to take to heart:

  • Mr. Rafael should be barred from any future involvement in fisheries.
  • Restitution of all Mr. Rafael's assets be considered on a New England-wide basis, not just New Bedford. The impact and harm caused by his crimes affects every fisherman who has held a groundfish and/or scallop permit and therefore they should receive restitution.
  • Restitution of Mr. Rafael's groundfish quota should exclude any entities currently controlling an excessive share of groundfish quota (2% or higher for any species identified under the Northeast multispecies fisheries management plan).
  • Restitution of Mr. Rafael's groundfish quota and scallop permits should provide a right-of-first-refusal to the fishermen who were put out of business or effectively removed from the groundfish and scallop fisheries due to Mr. Rafael's actions.

Of course, we would also like Congress to prohibit any new Catch Share policies during their Fish Bill reauthorization deliberations, and in the meanwhile NOAA to stop any Catch Share programs that lead to excessive consolidation and the privatization of our public resource.

Nothing short of these actions will be enough. NOAA can save face, if they are ready to be bold and brave.

Are they up for it? I'm not sure. Maybe you can give them a nudge by sending an email directly to the head of NOAA, Chris Oliver.

A couple of final thoughts:

To those in the fishing industry who believe we shouldn't attack another fisherman, keep in mind that Mr. Rafael is no more a fisherman at this point that Don Tyson is a chicken farmer. They have both used their power, privilege, and money to control their respective industries and the policies that are supposed to keep them in check. Sure each may contribute to their respective community's non-profit organizations and do what appears to show they care, but it doesn't change the stronghold they have on the system.

And, finally, to the environmental community who thinks everything will be fine as long as we just have more monitors... REALLY? Yes, monitors may address some issues of misreporting, which is important. But they do not address the root causes of a too-big-to-fail entity that was emboldened by policy and dominated the system. Until we hold the policies as equally accountable as those who abuse them, it won't matter how much monitoring we put in place. Unless of course we want to monitor excessive consolidation, power, and control. In which case, we are all for it.