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

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 Nasegh 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.

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.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

NAMA & Slow Food at the United Nations Ocean Conference: Fish, Food, and a Healthy Ocean

This post comes from Brett Tolley, NAMA's community organizer.

Last week I had the honor of representing Slow Food International, NAMA, and our various networks at the United Nations' Ocean Conference. The topic of conversation was the connection between overfishing and our food system. You can read the transcript of my speech below plus watch the video here. (scroll to 58:50)

Brett Tolley delivers speech to at the United Nations Ocean Conference

Generally speaking, discussions around healthy food systems and healthy oceans are kept separate. In the world of marine conservation, the seafood system is completely left out. So the fact that the UN was connecting these dots was in some ways a victory in itself.

The significance struck me as I was walking east along Manhattan’s 42nd Street toward the world renowned UN Building. Dressed in a suit jacket and walking alongside the hectic traffic spilling out of Times Square I thought about my journey to arrive at this point. Coming from a rural fishing town where my comfort zone is basically the exact opposite of the NYC hustle and bustle, I thought of all the people who’ve been working tirelessly for many years to connect these dots between ocean and food systems. 

I thought about NAMA, Slow Fish International,, the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, the National Family Farm Coalition, Farm Aid, Health Care Without Harm, and so many others who have been at the forefront of this work to ensure that we learn from our land-based food system and avoid repeating the same mistakes on the water. It became clear to me that the topic for this UN discussion -- Overfishing and Sustainable Gastronomy -- was not on the agenda by accident. Our collective message is having an impact.

United Nations Side Event: Ocean, Overfishing, and Sustainable Gastronomy

The main message we brought to the UN was this: the health of our ocean is intrinsically connected to our food system. And the food system is intrinsically connected to human rights, community empowerment, and the broader policies that affect our food producers. 

Rethinking our food system is critical for the health of the ocean. We desperately need a new values-based seafood system. One that ensures decent livelihoods for all those along the supply chain, honors the ocean, creates fair access for communities who depend on seafood, and many other values. See the recently released LocalCatch Core Values

At the UN session, we heard from many (including ourselves) who are leading these efforts by building alternative direct marketing models such as dock to dish, farmers markets, Community Supported Fisheries, boat to institution, and many others.  

But we can’t stop there. We can’t eat our way out of this problem. Nor can consumers simply buy our way toward a healthy ocean. Although for some this is a great start, we need to dive deeper.

NAMA's Community Organizers at the UN Ocean
Conference: Julianna Fischer and Brett Tolley
We must simultaneously address the tsunami of fisheries policy that is displacing our small and medium scale fishermen. To give a sense of what we're up against, see the World Ocean Grabs report, this recent Mother Jones article that highlights our work, and the newly released Fish Market: the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and Your Dinner Plate, by author Lee van der Voo.  

We can spend the time and energy to create alternative market structures and 'vote with our fork' but if the larger policies are not being addressed we'll have no small and medium scale fishermen to vote for.

Also, see the statement put out by the World Forum of Fisher Peoples to the United Nations in advance of last week’s conference. We stand in solidarity with the WFFP and recognize their great work in developing the United Nations Guidelines for Sustaining Small Scale Fisheries, which is a starting point toward solutions.

Overall our message was well received. We were able to carry the torch and continue connecting the dots between our ocean and food systems. We'll continue shining a light on ocean grabbing and continue building models toward food justice. If you haven't already, please hop on our newsletter and join our Facebook page to stay in the loop of these opportunities.


Delivered By Brett Tolley
June 6, 2017
New York, NY

To talk about the theme of this Side Event, overfishing and sustainable gastronomy, I want to start by sharing a personal story. My earliest memories are being on the deck of my father’s small-scale fishing boat and feeling the salt water hit my face. Like my father and his father before him, I learned to love the ocean and the infinitely complex ecosystems in which we lived and in which my family earned its living. My father was a small-scale fishermen and loved his work. He loved feeding people and working hard. He loved being on the water and caring for the marine ecosystems that provided his community with so much.  

But due to the increasing pressure from the global commodities market for seafood, my father wasn’t getting paid a fair price for his catch that reflected his true cost of overhead. Not only was he not getting paid a fair price but no matter how well he took care of his fish, he was not rewarded or recognized. At the same time policy designed to consolidate the fleet was pressuring fishermen like my father to increase volume in order to survive. And like thousands and thousands of fishermen, he had to make the choice: do I scale up or leave the fishery? Do I get big or get out? This is a similar question that many family farmers have faced over the years. In the end he tried to scale up in order to survive but fishing quickly transformed into something that he no longer loved and in fact, he began to hate. He got out of fishing and sold his boat last year.

For Slow Food International and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, we believe that if we’re serious about ending overfishing and sustainable gastronomy, then we must give our community-based and small-scale fishermen a better option. Instead of forcing them into high-volume / low-value fisheries we need to think about high-value / low-volume and generating new opportunities to access seafood at the community level.

This is the approach we’ve been taking for the past decade, together with Slow Food International we’ve organized a new and exciting network called Slow Fish, aimed at promoting the values of good, clean, and fair seafood.

We’re building new relationships with restaurants and fish buyers around the world to move toward these values and others that include: principles of food sovereignty, fair price, fair access, eating with the seasons and rhythms of nearby ocean ecosystems, and supporting bottom-up, genuine democratic participation in fisheries management, and more. We’re building direct marketing models and alternative options for fishermen to connect with their community and receive a fair price while providing new avenues for access to locally caught seafood. We are working with institutions like hospitals and universities to shift their buying power toward fair price, buying from small and medium scale fishermen, and embracing the seasonality of what’s being caught in nearby waters.

But like a nearby fishing family once told me, we can do all this work to build alternative markets and sustainable seafood systems, but if we’re not paying attention to the larger fisheries policies than we will lose all the fishermen and communities that we care most about.

Policies and principles such as food sovereignty that allow for communities to have democratic control over their own food resources are intrinsically linked to sustainable gastronomy. You can’t have one without the other.

One of the biggest threats we see to our vision of a values-based seafood system and sustainable gastronomy is the false solution of privatization to our fisheries access and the broader theme of “Ocean Grabbing”.  We are being told that in order to save the ocean we must own it like private property. This is not true. One short story to share.

In New England we recently began a policy that privatized our fisheries access rights for fish like cod. The promise was that by allowing fisheries access to be bought, sold, and traded like stocks on Wall Street, we would better conserve the fish populations. Not only did the policy fail to save the fish, but it empowered one of the largest fleet owners in the country, who self refers to as the Codfather. This fleet owner was recently caught in a sting operation by the US Internal Revenue Service and charged on dozens of accounts of fraud, money laundering, and cheating. He pled guilty to all accounts and his sentencing trial will be in two weeks. Fishermen warned of these policies and their negative impact to small scale fishing communities, but their voices were silenced during the defunct democratic process of our fisheries management.

We see that as long as policies are allowing for the big to get bigger, we will see our values around sustainable gastronomy no longer have any practical application because the fishermen who are best poised to sustain our ocean and communities will no longer be there. These threats affect all of us in this room and the communities we represent.

The World Forum of Fisher Peoples recently produced a report titled “World Ocean Grab” that documents how and where these policies are taking place. The strategies are global in nature and therefore we must also resist them as a global community. In line with the World Forum of Fisher Peoples, we stand in solidarity with the United Nations’ efforts to create the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustaining Small Scale Fisheries. We recognize the efforts and leadership from the World Forum of Fisher Peoples and others to participate in the process. The Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines are the starting point for our solutions. We encourage member States to channel efforts toward strengthening and implementing these guidelines as soon as possible.

So that for future generations of small and medium scale fishermen, they won’t be forced to get big or get out. They won’t be forced to make a killing. But rather, be able to fish in line with the ecosystem rhythms and make a living.