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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Rare Opportunity to Change How Fisheries are Regulated

 by Sean Sullivan NAMA's Marketing, Outreach and Development Associate

Russia is famously described as a mystery wrapped in a conundrum. The New England Fisheries Management Council process and meetings could well be described the same way. Ordinary logic flies out the window at council meetings. Vast numbers of fish are discarded dead overboard in the name of saving fish. Fishermen are watched like criminals, penalized like landed peasantry, treated routinely with disrespect when they summon the courage to speak. It can be a pretty grim environment. And to be fair, even those who oppose our work find the process tedious, confusing and unfulfilling. You rarely see people walking out of council and comittee meetings happy.

Some of this misery is captured in a recent report from NOAA, "New England Fishery Management Review". The report finds faults across the board in how the NEFMC works, how the agencies responsible for the science, oversight and enforcement fail to work together, how fishermen are excluded from the process and of course, as we've been saying for years - the Council operates without any kind of vision or strategic plan.

Well, there may be an opportunity to change much of how the council conducts it's business. NOAA has promised to enact many of the reforms recommended in the report, including creating a shared stakeholder vision, improving collaboration between agencies and fishermen and increasing the inclusiveness of the process itself.

NOAA will be accepting comments on the report and the recommendations in the report until this Friday May 27, 2011.

Thus comes a rare opportunity for seafood lovers, local food activists, seafood dealers, CSF folks, fishermen, shoreside service providers - ANYONE who cares about healthy oceans to speak up and tell NOAA to reform the process.

We've created a page that explains a bit about the report and gives you a number of ways to speak out on this subject. It will only take a few minutes of your time. I've been called naively optimistic (among other less flattering things!) but I beleive if we can reform the process and create an effective shared vision New England can and SHOULD have the best fishery in the world, one that provides jobs, seafood, and maintains a healthy ocean.

So, please take a few minutes and tell NOAA what you think.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Local Access and Local Control Over Who Fishes

By Brett Tolley, NAMA's Community Organizer

I come from a long line of family-fishermen but I did not become a fisherman myself. In an unlikely career path (to my father at least) I became a Community Organizer instead. I worked for several years in Brooklyn, NY organizing tenants who were being forced out of their communities by gentrification. Folks who lived in neighborhoods for generations, who also worked there, all of a sudden couldn't afford to live there anymore. Sound familiar?

Maybe it was my sub-conscience picking up on these issues as a young boy listening to my grandfather, uncles, and father talk fish at the family barbeque. Because to me, the same issues that folks face in a gentrifying community are the same issues that our family fishermen face today in New England. The cost to access the rights to fish are skyrocketing, quota is being concentrated into the hands of a few, and there are fewer opportunities for young people like myself to enter the industry.

In the fisheries world one of the biggest threats is access to fishing rights. Right now New England fisheries are going through a transition and issues like access to fish, who gets to fish, and the future of our fisheries are all at stake.

Fishermen like BG Brown talk about how in the past a person could work their way from a deck-hand to a captain to a boat-owner. Nowadays unless a deck-hand wins the lottery there is little chance they may one day own and operate a boat.

We believe that Who Fishes Matters and that means it's not just about how much fish gets caught. Who catches the fish is equally important because of the ecological, social, and economic implications. If we look to the food community (fish is a food after all!) there are groups like the US Food Sovereignty Alliance who also believe that Who harvests the food matters. Access to food impacts all community members and should therefore be in the control of the local food providers as well as the community. This principal is also echoed in the Internationally Recognized Principals for Food Sovereignty.

How do we ensure local access and control over who fishes? 

In the housing world we promote local control/access with things like affordable housing programs, fair laws and policies, good paying jobs, education opportunities, and bottom-up community planning... to name just a few.

In the fisheries world we need the same. Tools like permit banks, protections for fleet diversity, fair prices to local fishermen, caps on the accumulation of fishing rights, and bottom-up government are all needed.

One tool in particular, permit banks, is relatively new to New England fisheries and are in the early stages of development. The model is similar to that of affordable housing -- the intent is to provide affordable access that is anchored in a particular community. And like affordable housing it matters that those most impacted by policy are the same voices that shape the model moving forward.

Right now there's a chance to weigh in and help shape the direction of permit banks in it's early stages. The New England Fisheries Council is now accepting public comments on a rule that will effect State-Operated Permit Banks. To learn more and to weigh in click here. 

To get involved in other ways you can sign our petition, join our newsletter, or consider becoming part of the Fish Locally Collaborative.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Consolidation of the fleet confirmed by NE Science Center

By Sean Sullivan, NAMA's Outreach Marketing and Development Associate

As if it were not obvious from the lack of activity along the waterfronts of smaller ports and those with dayboat fleets, the New England Science Center's review of the first year of sectors confirms what almost everyone now knows, the New England fleet is rapidly consolidating into the hands a few.  From the executive summary:
Several measures of fishing activity and effort also continued to decline in 2010:
there were 18% fewer active vessels in 2010 than in 2007, 46% fewer groundfish trips, 38% fewer days absent on groundfish trips, and fewer crew positions, days, and trips.
So, not only are there less fishermen and crew out there fishing, fishing revenues are also consolidating into the hands of a few:
There has also been an increasing concentration of groundfish revenues among top earning vessels, as revenues have become consolidated on fewer vessels. About 66% of revenues from groundfish sales during 2007-2009 resulted from landings by 20% of active groundfish vessels. In 2010, 75% of the revenues from groundfish sales resulted from landings by 20% of active groundfish vessels.  
Those in favor of consolidation point to increased revenues as a sign that sectors are working to help the industry. But, as the report notes, revenues are up but only compared to the last two years:
Revenues from all species landed were higher in 2010 than in 2008 or 2009, but were $4 million less than in 2007.
These are trends that are part and parcel of privatization schemes. We've seen the rapid consolidation of family farms. We've also seen other privatized fisheries turn into what are in effect sharecropper arrangements where quota "owners" lease out quota to fishermen.

It sure seems like folks are waking up to the loss of our community based fishermen, but will it be too late?


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Each week in conjunction with Cape Ann Fresh Catch we publish another blog. The Cape Ann Fresh Catch blog generally covers fisheries regulation, but also covers issues germane to other CSF's, and of course occaisionally something related to our love of seafood. This week, reprinted below, we continue on the theme of "What can I do to help change the current state of seafood?"


Last week, we discussed the amazingly Orwellian life of a commercial fisherman. When people hear how regulated and heavy-handed regulations are for commercial fishermen they often ask, "What I can do to help change things?"

The first and easiest (and admittedly something that most of you who may be reading this blog are already doing by buying shares at Cape Ann Fresh Catch or another CSF) is to stop buying seafood from the great international fish conspiracy. Here is the easiest and best thing you can do for your health and the health of the oceans and fishermen everywhere:

Stop buying imported farmed shrimp.

Farmed shrimp have a terrible track record.

They are often pumped full of antibiotic's, live in crowded conditions and are farmed in sensitive environments like mangrove swamps.

Also, the testing of imported seafood for contaminants is questionable enough that states have taken it upon themselves to test seafood with less than stellar results.

Not only that but at least to me, they taste awful, a bit like rubber mixed with cardboard and ammonia.

So that's easy right? Just eat local Maine shrimp, fresh in season or frozen out of season. Or support Gulf of Mexico fishermen and buy shrimp from the gulf. (No time here to go into the health and safety aspects of whether Gulf of Mexico shrimp are OK to eat or not. Some reading on that here and here if you care to delve into it.)

And, feel free to lecture your buddies on this subject, you'll be doing them  favor!

Another way to get involved is to submit comments to the government on policy issues. This week you can weigh in on state operated permit banks. Its a bit of a complicated issue, but you can find all you need to know here (and also further down the blog in Brett's post.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Morality & the Marginalized

By Niaz Dorry, NAMA's Coordinating Director

Welcome to the first entry in NAMA's blog. Most people don't expect fisheries issues to be couched in the context of morality or marginalization. That needs to change. So we thought we would start our blog by sharing with you a couple of unintended compliments we received recently. 

Earlier this year in a meeting with someone who works closely with fishing communities, I was told that we were working with the marginalized. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment. In fact, it was said with a tone that suggested we weren’t working with those who really mattered.

Later, at a meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council, our call for fleet diversity was couched as a moral issue not a fishery management one by someone testifying before the council. I’m certain the testimony was intended to suggest it doesn’t really matter who fishes and the council should disregard calls for fleet diversity. Although I agree with the speaker that the issue is a moral one, I disagree that it’s not a fishery management one.

I must admit at first both comments made me pause. I wasn’t sure whether I should be insulted or not. Within a few seconds I found myself feeling proud to be regarded as working to represent those who are marginalized while pursuing a moral agenda. After all, some of my heroes spent their life’s work pursuing moral issues on behalf of the marginalized. Not that I consider us in the same league as Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. or others whose life was spent exposing wrongdoings of systems that undermine the lives of millions at a great cost to all just so that a few can benefit and hold power, but we have reached the point in the fishing world where we are making decisions about who gets to fish.

More and more fisheries are beginning to resemble the rest of the world: fisheries wealth and power are being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Anyone who doesn’t think this concentration of power has adverse consequences for the marine ecosystem hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been going on around the world and/or other industries.

Let’s see… the financial industry, housing industry, agriculture, media and health care.

Fisheries are no different, and more and more fisheries policies are resembling those that brought us the banking disasters, the financial meltdown, the destruction of agriculture and we won’t even talk about health care.

And who are the marginalized? They are fishermen like Naz Sanfilippo of Gloucester. When I first met Naz by his boat, he told me this story: there is a tree across the street where Naz ties his boat. His father taught him to watch for when that tree blooms before he goes fishing for cod. One year Naz decided to ignore his father’s advice and sure enough… he came home empty handed. Regardless of the ethics, values, skills and knowledge Naz brings to his fishing operation, current fisheries management strategies aren't made to value his operations. He's considered too small to matter.

You can watch other testimonies from some other so-called marginalized fishermen of New England.

If political power is determined by ones investment portfolio or bank accounts or ability to hire lobbyists, then our priorities are way out of whack. We know the so called marginalized – the community based fishing businesses like Naz’ and others like him – are those with the least ecological impact and bring the most value to our food system, local economies and local communities. These are best portrayed in this chart by Daniel Pauly in 2006:

Pauly wasn't the first one to lay out these differences in such an easy to understand fashion. When I first began working on fisheries issues in 1994, it was the work of Peter Weber in the Worldwatch Institute paper #12 Net Loss: Fish, Jobs & The Marine Environment, that caught my eye:

There are major moral incongruities in the current fisheries management systems that not only jeopardize the lives of marginalized fishermen around the globe, but the very marine ecosystem fisheries management is meant to protect.

Who Fishes Matters… and if we are to stop fisheries from following the path of other industries that have valued consolidation and concentration of power instead of all other values, then we are in for a bumpy ride that will leave a lot of damage in its wake.

We can change the course. Let’s bring the perceived marginalized fishermen back into the page and address the moral issues we have to tackle because they have huge ecological implications.