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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hey Big Box Boats - We Got a Bone to Pick

By Russell Kingman
Fisherman, Chatham MA
Guest Blogger

I was down at the dock the other day talking with a scalloper. He said, "Listen to this! So this rich guy has a "ne'er-do-well" son who barely makes it through college. The father doesn't know what to do with his lazy spoiled son so he buys him a scallop business." Incredulously I ask, "He bought him a scallop boat? What could be a harder, more labor intensive job than that of a scalloper?” "No, no, no!" says my friend, “the father didn't buy the kid a boat......he bought him scallop quota."

Russell Kingman aboard the F/V Lester F.
Photo Credit: Shareen Davis
I had to pause and digest the absurdity of this anecdote. It turns out that buying up scallop quota is like buying stock on the stock market. You can own the rights to a stock (in the case of scallops owners control a % of the total allowable catch per year) and these rights can be traded, bought, and sold.

The two of us sat on the dock, bantering about the absurd situation that has developed in fisheries. Walmart is investing in it, Wall Street, and nameless other firms are buying fish quotas along all our coasts. Why?

Fisheries have been commoditized. It just makes me crazy to think that some large company in the mid-west, or Asia or anywhere, could own the fishing rights where I live, and I'd have to lease these rights in order to put my nets in the water... and then hand over most of the profits from my labor when the day is done. 

That's why I have a bone to pick with big box boat fisheries.

Recently I attended ‘Terre Madre’ in Torino, Italy. This massive Slow Food conference brings together smaller-scale food producers and advocates from around the world. I was there to participate in a growing movement called Slow Fish.

In my view, the purpose of Slow Fish is to find ways to save smaller-scale fisheries from extinction. Over the course of 5 days together with 50 other fisher folk from around the globe, we identified issues and solutions that small-scale fisheries share in common. Among the most pressing of topics was the corporatizing of fisheries and what this will ultimately do to the small-scale fisheries. Which btw, represents 90% of all fisheries in the world yet only accounts for a small fraction of the total catch.

Ultimately, we see a growing trend of small-scale fishers becoming share-croppers on the ocean and the rights, or quota, funnel into the hands of a wealthy few. Let's face it. Large corporations will squeeze any possible profit out of the fishery. Does anyone really believe that big box business will take care of the environment? Employees? Community?

It’s no wonder why so many fishermen I know are pessimistic about the future health of the ocean and coastal communities. Can you blame them?

That's why I feel that Terre Madre.... and other networks that are uniting small-scale fishers to take back their access and control over the local food system are so important. Quota or rights to fish should be controlled by the community, not an investment firm or the son of a wealthy entrepreneur. In Alaska, fishers were able to legislate that you cannot control quota UNLESS YOU ARE ACTUALLY ON THE BOAT. That is brilliant! That's one of the keys to returning quota back to the fishers themselves.

There were many other subjects discussed at Terra Madre concerning small fisheries. For now, I just wanted to point out how disastrous it will be if we continue the trend of corporatizing our fisheries.  It doesn't work for communities and it won't work for the environment either.

Thanks Russell! Folks can learn more about our Who Fishes Matters campaign and take immediate action to fight Big Box Boats and support community-based fisheries by clicking here:

1 comment:

  1. great a sponsor of the owner onboard amendment to halibut/sablefish management frustration persists as we wait for nmfs to implement this provision. Four years later we wait as opposition(absentee owner) works the halls of d.c. To torpedo this action. The fight continues to save working fishing families.."best regards to my east coast brethren.