NAMA's Coordinating Director
I had the pleasure of taking part in the annual conference of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies – or BALLE – in Bellingham, Washington last week. Aside from being inspired by the work BALLE networks are doing, I was deeply touched by how our work was received by the conference attendees. As soon as I sat down from giving my plenary talk titled "Who Fishes Matters" exploring opportunities for creating local living marine economies, the person next to me leaned over and said, “you just changed my mind.” Wow. It could have ended there and I would have been happy. But it didn’t end there. The BALLE community’s recognition that who fishes indeed matters has been heartwarming.
With each kind word I felt the circle of support expand. It was palpable. It’ll take dozens of blog entries to cover all the memorable interactions, but I felt one in particular was worth noting here because of its connection to the fishing community where I live.
It was a conversation with Peter Warshall of Dreaming New Mexico. Turns out Peter was a good friend of the poet Charles Olson and visited him in Gloucester on numerous occasions. A native of Massachusetts, Olson spent much of his time in Gloucester and even devoted much of his poetry – including "Maximus of Gloucester," a series of poems – to America’s oldest settled fishing port. Peter said after hearing about our work all he could think of was “Charles would have loved this work.” It would be an understatement to say that I was humbled by Peter’s comments not only because of who Peter is and the work he does to transform "policies, habits and consumption so they reflect the ecological and local realities of watersheds, foodsheds and energysheds,” but also who Olson was.
Peter’s feedback left me in high spirits and I left the conference feeling energized. But it wasn’t just the response to our work that left me feeling we can change the world, it was the entire spirit of those present. There was not only a sense that “we can do this” but proof that we are already on the way and our community is rapidly expanding.
|A memorable meal at Jeremy's|
As I envisioned this broader community, I couldn’t help think about the phrase “community supported fishery” or CSF. It’s no secret that we have been big supporters of the creation of CSFs for variety of reasons. I’m sure if you are engrossed in the operations of a CSF it’s easy to get caught up in the seafood selling elements of the program. But it’s the community building element of the model that has captured my imagination and that of those I’ve visited on this coast to coast trip, who include Bellingham’s Jeremy Brown and Anne Mosness, two people who have fished in the Pacific Northwest for decades. Anne’s family for generations. You haven't tasted seafood till you've had Anne's smoked salmon (complete with freshly foraged wild mushrooms) and Jeremy's canned tuna!
|Anne's wild salmon and mushrooms|
Community building is NAMA’s main motivation behind CSFs. Sure… the model ensures fishermen get paid a fair price for catching less fish and consumers get a handle on their source of marine based foods. But we at NAMA are focused on long-term social change on the water to benefit our communities, the environment and our economies. We can’t realize these changes if the fishermen who can do the most ecological good and who are most affected by myopic, micromanagement currently common practice in the fisheries world are not socially empowered and economically supported. Such social and economic isolation keeps them from taking their proper seat at the table where issues pertinent to their lives and livelihoods are being debated.
It’s the social element that hurts ecologically minded, community-based fishermen most. Many of them feel totally alone. I can’t tell you how often I hear small-scale fishermen say, “no one cares about us.” CSFs are putting them in touch with those who care. Seafood Throwdowns are showing them first hand the love their communities have for them in a fun, creative, interactive way.
That’s why something Naz Sanfilippo, a Gloucester fisherman, said echoes in my head all the time. He said, “in these dark times of fisheries management, the CSF is a beacon of hope.” Charles Olson would have probably loved hearing that from Naz.
This beacon of hope is now brighter from the additional light of the BALLE community. I know I can already see a brighter path.