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

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Of the many challenges facing community-based fishermen today...the most formidable is access."

With the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act going on in Washington this fall, we've reached out to friends and partners for some perspective on fisheries management around the country. 

We chatted with Rachel Donkersloot, the Working Waterfronts program director at the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. She filled us in on their priorities and successes, along with what she keeps in her jacket pocket for trips to the beach. 
NAMA:  The Magnuson-Stevens Act is an important piece of fisheries management legislation and it's up for reauthorization this fall. What would you say are the three most important ways the Act can be modified to shape fisheries policy going forward? 

RACHEL: The Magnuson-Stevens Act lays the foundation for sustainable fisheries in our nation. AMCC has been closely engaged in MSA reauthorization since our inception nearly twenty years ago. Working with fishermen in Alaska and other groups across the nation, important strides have been made for both conservation and community protections under the law. 

In this round of reauthorization we will continue to push for precautionary, science-based fisheries management. We also think that progress can and should be made in strengthening community protections in limited access privilege programs (catch share programs), further minimizing bycatch and improving ecosystem-based fisheries management decisions. 

Q: Your organization advocates for a stronger fisherman voice when crafting policy. Can you point to a fishery and set of policies where fishermen have been instrumental - and successful - in creating policies that work for the fishery? 

A: Kodiak jig fishermen in collaboration with AMCC recently achieved an important victory for maintaining access for the low-impact, largely community-based jig fleet. Working together, we were able to secure regulatory measures at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council level that led to the creation of the jig sector as the entry-level opportunity within the newly established catch share programs for Pacific cod and rockfish in the Gulf of Alaska. Our success was the creation of sector quotas for the jig fleet of up to 6% of the allowable cod catch and 2.5% of the pelagic rockfish catch. 

This is significant and unprecedented because the sector split allocates a percentage of the catch to the jig fleet that is potentially much higher than the fleet’s historical catch record. Certainly challenges remain but the jig fishery is working like it should. Last week I met a young fisherman from Kodiak who started jigging two years ago. He said, “All I needed was a $75 permit and two years of hard work.” This year he bought a 38 foot salmon seiner. Jigging provided the critical point of entry which allowed him to expand his fishing operation business into a profitable enterprise. 

Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge community-based fishermen face in the immediate term? What about the long term? 

A: Access. Of the many challenges facing community-based fishermen today I think the most formidable is access. Fishermen today face incredible barriers to entry due in part to catch share programs and other limited entry permit programs which tend to disproportionately impact local fisheries participation. 

In the last decade, local vessel ownership in Kodiak dropped from 710 to 452 vessels. Local commercial fishing permit ownership declined by 18 percent, from 1,646 locally owned permits to 1,279. Strong fishing communities are made up of working fishermen. How will these numbers change over the next decade? 

We have to think about who is going to hold fishing privileges for the resources surrounding us in the future and how this will impact the social and economic landscape of our harbors and homes. We’re with ya, NAMA. Who fishes matters. 

Q: Can strong conservation measures and thriving fishing communities 

A: The North Pacific is a leader in sticking to science-based catch limits. That doesn’t mean we’re immune to resource decline and environmental change, but it does play a meaningful role in the long-term health of our fishery resources, communities and economies. Alaska is blessed with abundant and diverse fishery resources. The incredibly productive marine ecosystems off of our coastline afford access to a diverse suite of fisheries which can help to insulate communities from the hardship that comes with strong conservation measures. 

The ability to shift to different species, gear types or fishing areas when confronted with management changes and variability in resource abundance means that we have avoided some of the painful decisions that fishing communities in the Lower 48 contend with on a more regular basis. That said, current Chinook salmon crises and declines in halibut in Alaska have been and will continue to be extremely challenging both from conservation and community views. 

Q: If you could be anyplace in the world right now, where would you be? And what kind of fish would you be eating?

A: I’d be on the back of a three-wheeler on the beach in Naknek, AK (my home community in Bristol Bay). I’d be pulling strips of smoked salmon out of my jacket pocket and watching the tide come in.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fishing Against the Odds

When we travel to Farm Aid later this week to spread the word on the true cost of fishing, two of our travel companions will be Brian and Tracy Pearce, a commercial fishing family from the Portland, Maine area. We chatted with them about their business, the future, and fishing in the red. 

Tracy and Brian Pearce
NAMA: How are you managing to stay out of the red?

Brian: I keep my business and home expenses as low as I can. My boat is only 45’ and the engine is low horsepower, so the operating overhead is not high. I gillnet which burns less fuel than dragging, although gear can be a big expense.  Also, my wife works full time.

Q: What factors are working against you and your colleagues as you continue in this uncertain industry?

A: 1. Increased expenses, which far exceed the increased revenue. 2. Environmental threats and predators like seals, dogfish, and sharks. 3. Imported fish as a perceived substitute for domestic wild caught 4. I sell my catch at the local fish auction, and the fluctuations and unpredictability of the buying market have always been a mystery. 5. Another threat to our industry is not having much of voice at the table within the New England Fisheries Management Council and committees.

Q: If you were asked to forecast a future for this industry, what would it look like? 
A: If everything is left as is, I think it will be tough to find many people willing to work in this business. I’m not sure what incentive there is for captains or crew to fish for someone else’s quota, being charged to do so, when the landing prices are uncertain.

Q: What is it about commercial fishing that keeps you in the business?

A: It’s all I’ve ever done. I’m heavily invested in time, and I don’t know anything else. For those reasons, I’ll find any opportunity I can to stay in this business.

Q: You’ve been working with the folks at NAMA what have you found most helpful? 

A: They’ve worked very hard to unite fisherman from different regions in New England that share the same struggles and frustrations. It’s difficult for owner/operators to stay in touch with regulations and proposals when they are actively sea and shore captains. NAMA has tried to bridge that gap for guys like me.

Slow Fish on Campus!

This post comes to us from Spencer Montgomery from Slow Food USA and the University of New Hampshire. It originally ran on the Slow Food Youth Network blog.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
Here in my twenties, I am beginning to realize our true potential for reclaiming our food sovereignty and I am so excited!
People are beginning to think differently. It’s becoming apparent that the fumbling hands of agribusiness should not be the ones sowing our seeds. Growing food is the most intimate connection we share with Earth.

From early grassroots efforts, Carlo Petrini has inspired a Slow Food movement. Principles born out of this Slow Food movement are now being embraced by academia. The EcoGastronomy program at University of New Hampshire is a working example of this. And now, Carlo’s Slow Food movement is being warmly inherited by young adults all over the world. A Slow Food Youth Network is being aroused.
As more and more young people are being turned on to the holistic capacity of good, clean, fair food, the Slow Food Youth Network continues to grow. While maintaining the core principles of Slow Food, SFYN steps past bureaucratic limitations and embraces freedom of expression. It’s a celebration, meant to inspire. The instantaneous nature of social media allows us to share ideas faster. By documenting experiences and sharing videos, suddenly we have more leverage in our fight for food sovereignty. I urge you to check out Amsterdam’s Disco Soupe video ! Empowering stuff!
Youth involvement in Slow Fish
A few months ago, I distributed surveys to 44 members of our local campus Slow Food chapter. The purpose was to gauge interests in order to better guide our efforts as a group. Surprisingly, more than 60% of the students from our group expressed a strong interest in ‘seafood sustainability’. With very little knowledge of the ‘bait to plate’ situation, I felt obligated to learn more so that I could offer inspired-learning experiences to members.
I began exploring what it meant to be a sustainable eater in the realm of seafood. As part of my exploration, I reached out to gain perspective from local fishermen, chefs, professors, and community organizations. As you may guess, I was quickly introduced to the untenable practices of industrial fishing, buoyed by lopsided policy. 
Just as crop monoculture exploits our land and soil, our discriminating taste for only a few species of fish has allowed industrial boats to ravage our seas. But thankfully, people are beginning to think differently! Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) are popping up all over the world, potent in their ability to increase access to fresh, seasonal ‘under-loved’ species of fish. Chefs are working with locally-caught seafood – framing the unique & tasty merroir of coastal communities. Great things are happening! We are witnessing the start of a revol-ocean!
I just kicked off a two-week, Youth-led Slow Fish campaign at my university. The program will take place from September 14- October 1. The entire experience will be documented with the hope of inspiring other young adults to step up and host Slow Fish activities in their own communities. Slow Fish has already rooted itself in countries such as Italy, Brazil, Canada and Argentina. I would love to see the Slow Fish model proliferate across the USA, possibly gaining strength from preexisting Slow Food networks. 
I’m excited to announce that we hosted the first ever Youth-led Seafood Throwdown at Fishtival on Saturday, September 14. Fishtival is a community seafood festival that draws thousands of people each year, presenting a perfect opportunity for a Slow Fish launch in New England!
See images from the event here. And here are some top take-aways and next steps for Slow Fish: 
  • ‘Underloved’ species of fish include fish that your community fishermen are pulling up in their nets but struggle to find any local market value for. They are either discarded or sold to foreign buyers halfway around the world. You may be more familiar with the term ‘trash fish’, but ‘underloved’ sounds entirely more poetic. Many years ago, here in New England, lobster was once considered to be a ‘trash fish’ – a filthy bottom-feeding sea bug. But now, lobster is regarded as a delicacy, sold at top dollar in restaurants. There are so many perfectly nutritious, ‘underloved’ species of fish to discover. Be open-minded. Eating locally and seasonally should not be limited to apples and pumpkins; begin creating dialog with your local fishermen about the ‘catch of the day’!
What are the other components of a Slow Fish campaign?  

Host a Slow Fish filet & cooking workshop!
Once you’ve identified the various species of ‘underloved’ fish available to you, showcase them! Host a workshop at your school or in your community, highlighting how to filet and cook with these types of fish. Invite a local fisherman and chef from your community to share their expertise. Document the experience and share recipes. People will truly begin to embrace these ‘underloved’ species of fish once they know how to make them taste good. With a little culinary creativity, any fin is possible!
Host a Merroir Manifesto!
Terroir (pronounced tare-whar) is a term used to describe the unique set of flavor characteristics gifted to an agricultural product from the land which it is grown. Geography, climate and soil composition can all influence terroir – offering a “sense of place”. In the same respect, merroir (pronounced mare-whar) is a novel term that can be used to describe “the taste of local fishing waters”.
Host a potluck-style ‘Merroir Manifesto’ to help frame the unique & tasty merroir of your coastal community. This type of event could be a smart follow up to your ‘Slow Fish filet and cooking’ workshop. Try inviting fishermen, chefs & professors and turn it into a discussion-based potluck. A Merroir Manifesto showcasing fresh, local seafood and productive conversation is a win-win!
Host a movie showing!
Gather a bunch of friends and host a movie showing! It could be held in a friend’s dorm room or you could even rent out a theater! There are a handful of great flicks out there offering information on the topic of ‘seafood sustainability’. Check out the ones listed below. Don’t forget the popcorn!
- In the Same Boat
- Fish Belong to the People
- End of the Line
- Who Fishes Matters (YouTube channel)
- Red Gold
- A Sea Change
- The Cod Academy
- List of International Films from the Slow Fish International Website
With a little creativity, any fin is possible!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The True Cost of Food - Fishing and Farming in the Red

Below are highlights from the Facebook Live Chat held August 29. 
View discussion HERE

Notes gathered by Brett Tolley, community organizer at NAMA 
(please add/comment below for anything that is missing)

Last week the Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness, the National Family Farm Coalition, and NAMA co-hosted our first Facebook 'live chat' to highlight the true cost of food and the fact that many fishermen and farmers are fishing and farming in the red.

Both family farmers and community based fishermen are NOT allowed to ask for a boat or farm price that reflects their real cost. For the majority of farmers and fishermen you are told how much you're getting paid for your catch or crop. In the fishing world, add to it the cost of leasing the right to fish - or land in the case of farmers - and all the other direct and indirect expenses and we have a situation that we are hearing more and more about: fishing in the red and farming in the red.

Below is a general summary of ideas, links, videos, and more that folks shared during the Facebook chat. Overall, it was a fantastic conversation and we hope to do more in the future.

Thanks to all who participated!

Folks posted several links that helped tell the story of how over time, family farmers and fishers are getting paid a smaller percentage of the food dollar. We read that in 1956 the farmer received 8% of the price of a box of corn flakes, and then by 1979, the farmer received only 1.7% of the retail dollar. Today its getting even worse.

We discussed two strategy approaches to address the price issue as well as the larger problem at hand; a broken and unjust food system. Strategy #1, fix the systems that are stacked against family farmers and community based fishermen. And strategy #2, build upon the positive aspects of the local food movement.

Strategy #1
Weigh in on the Farm Bill and the upcoming fish-version of the farm bill called the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Management and Conservation Act (MSA). *see further action items below

Strategy #2
Build upon the creation of an alternative food system. Models such as CSAs, CSFs, farm/fish to school, and localizing the purchase power of institutional buyers like hospitals are increasing.
Post from FB Chat: "Foster a consumer movement that is loyal to a Fair Trade model, i.e. Fair Trade labels that include labor standards and decent pay for producers. With modern social media communications, it might be possible in the future to educate enough consumers to look for fair trade labels. The Domestic Fair Trade Network is a start in that direction. Another strategy is localizing the food distribution and connecting fisherfolk and farmers directly with consumers." 
Potential hurdles include farmers and fishers fighting amongst themselves. Often times we see an unwillingness to speak out about price because we've become accustomed to selling for crumbs and believing that crumbs are better than nothing.

YouTube Video "Food Movement 
1985: Were you there? We Were"
Post from FB chat: "Consumer support is absolutely vital in this "David and Goliath Battle" between our nation's farmers, fishermen, and food producers, and the "Food and Dairy Industry"! More consumers need to be informated that the INDUSTRY's share of the $$$ in the middle needs to be shared fairly so farmers and fishermen can stay in business so consumers have a safe, adequate, secure, and affordable food supply!"
The Farm Bill expires on October 1, 2013 and there are many important programs that will be terminated or lose their funding. Farmers, fishers, and rural communities across the globe are impacted by these actions that threaten their food sovereignty. We need to stand up and make sure that more bad trade agreements aren't negotiated and that fast-track, undemocratic processes for adopting trade policy must not be approved by our Congress. Read more at the National Family Farm Coalition site.
Post from FB chat about dairy pricing system: "The whole dairy pricing system needs to be revisited so that dairy farmers are able to recover a price for their milk that covers their cost of production; now dairy cooperatives acting much more like corporations than cooperatives exert way too much control that hurts both dairy farmers in the form of low prices and consumers in that much of what they pay for milk at the grocery store fuels the profit levels of companies like Land O' Lakes and Dairy farmers of America. We at NFFC are working to support a different kind of dairy farm bill; one that is based on fair pricing. But for this to work - we also need fair trade policies that limit the inflow of imported dairy (dry powder) that displaces our markets and provides an even cheaper substitute for milk products."
Also discussed price floors and how we need to educated folks about the real affect and impact of farm subsidies. In a nutshell, subsidies don't result in fair pay to family farmers. Read about two proposals here. And check out this video. 

YouTube Video on farm subsidies 
and price floor programs

Compared the MSA as like the Farm Bill but for fisheries. It gets revisited by congress every 10 years or so. The congressional discussion for the upcoming MSA reauthorization just began this past spring. Currently NAMA and allies are developing a platform/proposal. We invite folks to join our efforts and weigh-in during this lengthy and critical policy process.
See public testimony and read more here

Discussed the fisheries quota system, that in some cases is becoming a privatization scheme where quota is bought, sold, and traded similar to the stock market. In the end this drives wages down for fishermen plus crew and drives policy in the same direction as agribusiness did for farm land. 

Here is a great cartoon video that explains the policy with an easy-to-understand message:

Discussed how to ensure that low-income families can afford healthy and culturally appropriate foods and also ensure a fair price to farmers and fishers. Mentioned the SNAP program that also includes incentives to shop farmers' markets.

Also mentioned direct marketing like CSAs and CSFs which can sometimes offer a win-win where people pay less for fresh seafood and fishermen get paid more. Cape Ann Fresh Catch is one example.

More restaurants are highlighting boat and captain names on menus. This implies that you are giving back directly to someone that worked hard to bring that food to the restaurant. We want to encourage and congratulate restaurants that are paying fair price and sourcing ethically but also must caution against other retailers and restaurants who are exploiting/green washing/blue washing terms like 'local, organic, sustainable, etc.' in order to increase profit margins and NOT pass on the added value to the fishermen.

Blog by John Peck that highlights the issue
"The primary objective of fair trade is to bring economic justice and workplace dignity to farmers and workers. It would seem odd, then, that the fair trade price for the sector's flagship product - coffee - has been "stuck" at $1.26 per pound for over a dozen years now."
Folks asked, "I'd like to join the movement, but I am a little unsure of where to start." Here are some of the resources/petitions that were offered.

What is "Fishing in the Red?"

At NAMA, we've been talking a lot recently about "fishing in the red." Later this month, we're headed to FarmAid in Saratoga Springs, NY, where our exhibit will show concertgoers what we're talking about. But as we hop on the Road to Farm Aid, we thought we'd take a minute to explain what we mean by fishing in the red, and why it's an important thing to highlight. 

For many fishermen in our region, the expense of fishing outweighs the income. Fishermen are paying for fuel, supplies, and labor - and in many cases, they're leasing quota rights. But the price of fish at the docks is extremely low. As we've pointed out before, the numbers don't add up. 
  • The cost of fish: Dogfish is abundant in New England waters right now. The price per pound? $0.20. With such low prices and no local market to sell to, it's a losing proposition.
  • The cost of quota: It's expensive to lease quota, but when the catch limits for certain species are curtailed, small operators often have to fish for other species to make up the difference. And they'll need to lease that quota from someone else, adding an additional layer of expense to their operation. Brett, our community organizer, has a good post here showing how this can play out for fishermen. 
  • The cost to our fisheries: No businessperson can operate in the red indefinitely. Our concern is that the cost of doing business will squeeze smaller operators off the water, leaving larger, more capitalized and industrial-scale operations with the majority of the quota and the market. 
That's why NAMA has been developing market alternatives for fishermen like direct sales to health care institutions and Community Supported Fisheries. And we'll continue to push for policies that support a diverse fleet of fishing boats to thrive in our fisheries. We've said it before and we'll say it again: Who Fishes Matters. We want to put an end to fishing in the red.