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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Six Things to Know About NAMA

As the year wraps up, we're reflecting on the past 12 months (during which time we started celebrating our upcoming 20 year anniversary!), and we realized that we've gotten to know so many new allies and friends this year, some of whom may not know much about NAMA's history. And we know from time to time, some of our faithful friends might wonder why we work the way we do. So, thought we'd remind ourselves and you about what's brought us to today.

1. NAMA was founded based on a set of values and principles. That makes us a value based organization, which means we determine what we do based on whether or not it reflects those values and allows us to be true to those principles. This means we measure success in ways that are not always tangible or measurable in the conventional fashion.  

2. We take risks. We’ll strive to be bold and brave. We expect to make mistakes because we know we’re not perfect. We trust our collaborators will tell us when we err, so we can correct course. We don’t mind apologizing. But we also don’t mind standing our grounds when it comes to differences of opinion. 

Our opinions are based on the principles NAMA’s built on. That means on some issues, such as privatization of public commons, our opinion won’t change because our principles haven’t. We will stand by our oppositions to fisheries and ocean management that take public commons and turn them into privately held commodities.

3. We believe our work should put us out of work. Seriously. We’re not in this to perpetuate an organizational identity; we’re in this to create real change believing that real change means we don’t have to keep doing this work again. And again. And again.

4. We believe in decentralized community based leadership. We believe that intrinsic ownership in Main Street is worth more than anything on Wall Street. To that end we see our role one of facilitating communities to access their own power, connecting with other likeminded communities and advocates, and elevating their collective voices toward creating long term change. That means we give up being quoted in the paper, or speaking on a stage, etc. because we believe the voices of our community partners are most important.

5. We share our resources, including funding. We operate on a pretty small budget and anything we raise that doesn’t meet the basic operational needs is used to provide stipends to community leaders, enable fishermen to get where they need to go, and provide planning and coordination support for the Fish Locally Collaborative.

6. We are not going to be polite. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be rude. It means we will call things out as we see them and not settle for silence on critical issues such as slavery in the so-called sustainable seafood chain, or the strange bedfellows of the Koch Brothers, their allies, and environmental organizations pushing for ocean privatization. 

Ditto to issues which, on the surface may not appear to be connected to fisheries and marine policy issues but have deep roots that affect all parts of our society such as racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice, food access, and corporate grabs of anything that isn’t tied down.

Now you know! Any questions? 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Former New England Patriots Player Jarvis Green Rocks the Boat!

In our quest to get people thinking about where our seafood comes from and who is catching it, we get excited to meet partners like Jarvis Green, who will join us at Rock the Boat next Friday, November 7. (You should come too! Get your tickets here.)

Green is a former defensive lineman for the New England Patriots, where he played from 2002 -2009 and has two Super Bowl rings to show for it! But more recently, he's become an advocate for sustainability and traceability in the seafood supply through his work as VP of sales and marketing for the New Orleans Shrimp House. The company's shrimp is wild-caught in the Gulf of Mexico by members of a fishermen's co-op with boats in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. 

The New Orleans Shrimp House sources its shrimp from members of the Vietnamese American Commercial Fisherman’s Union Co-op. Vietnamese shrimpers make up a good part of the Gulf shrimping industry, says Green. To support these fishermen, Green's company established an incentive program that pays the fishermen back 5% of their net sales of shrimp that go into the company's specialty shrimp products. The co-op fishermen must also adhere to in-house sustainability guidelines, Green says. 

"I never thought I'd be doing food," after ending his career with the Patriots, says Green, who studied construction engineering at LSU before playing football professionally. Green grew up in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, in a house where "you wake up, you're in the kitchen." His mother, grandmother, sisters and aunts all cooked - food and cooking are in his roots, he says. 

Besides his work building business for the New Orleans Shrimp House, Green participates in a number of service projects related to food, including Reaching Out and Cooking with Kids (ROCKs), a new initiative aimed at working with schools to teach kids the confidence, motivation, and self-esteem that comes with knowing how to choose and cook healthy food. 

Green will bring his love of food and hospitality to our Rock the Boat event at the Armory in Somerville on November 7th. He'll be there with shrimp from the New Orleans Shrimp House - we hope you'll come out, meet Jarvis, and rock the boat with us! (tickets here)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

To Policy Makers: Protect Fleet Diversity in New England

This post comes from Tad Miller, commercial fisherman based out of Tenants Harbor, Maine, who submitted the following public comments to the New England Fisheries Management Council.

To the New England Fisheries Management Council,

Loss of fleet diversity equates to loss of access for the common man that affects not only myself as a fisherman but also my family whom depend on me to make a living, that being just the tip of the ice berg as far as I am concerned. 

My community, the State of Maine as well as the whole New England region, has been and will continue to be negatively and nearly irreversibly impacted by not taking actions now to protect fleet diversity as well as right of access. In Eastern Maine it became commercially unviable many years ago to ground fish and the rest of the State has been just barely hanging on. Because of this and other factors the right of historic access for has already been severely curtailed. 

Much of our historic access was taken away through arbitrary qualifying periods and now I think without proper action we will lose even more. If or when we ever see a big reversal in the trends of the fish stocks and they are teaming in our local waters are local people going to gain access to stocks to not just employ people but also share in in this bounty of fresh local protein with their communities? 

In my community as in many others especially in Midcoast and Eastern Maine fishing in all of its different forms is more than just a job, it's our livelihood. It's how and why we exist, fishing is the engine that drives this area probably more than any other. This is why we have to protect access for all would be participants. 

I see consolidation as a problem because it will put the owner/operator ( especially small boats) at an even bigger disadvantage. I believe that we must find a balance that fits the needs of the many not just the few whom can take the time and the money to be well represented in these affairs. 

I cannot personally attend these meetings because of fishing commitments but I hope you will consider my letter and testimonies I expect that you will hear from others as reason enough to proceed down a fair and just path. I also belong to two ground fish sectors (Northeast Coastal Communities and Maine Coast Community Sectors), which represent me when i'm unable to speak for myself. I believe that there is and should be a place for both large and small vessels alike to work and prosper. A18 deals with these urgent problems and must be dealt with as quickly as possible. 

A range of actions can be implemented to address these problems. I recommend that the Council explore the following potential solutions in order to achieve the goals: Section 4.5 Inshore / Offshore Ares, Section 4.1 Limit the Holdings of PSC, Section 4.4 Data Confidentiality, I would consider these things as being a good starting point. 

I think another round of fleet visioning could help to uncover some other potential avenues to better this industry. One thing I feel is that every vessel operator should have enough ownership in a vessel and permit to promote a better sense of stewardship for the resource within the industry, this has worked well in other fisheries. I know this would be controversial but i'm simply suggesting ways to strengthen the industry in the future, which would be to everyones benefit.

Thank you, 

Sincerely, Tad Miller

Reject Distractions; Fix Catch Shares Now

This post comes to us from Brett Tolley, NAMA's community organizer. The original content appeared in the September edition of Commercial Fisheries News.

Three years ago I sat amongst a group of fishermen testifying that the new catch share program in New England was not working and needed to be fixed. The fleet was consolidating, access was becoming unaffordable to independent people, and too much pressure was hitting the inshore fishing areas. Several members of the New England Fishery ManagementCouncil along with lobbyists, who support catch share ideology, denied these problems. 

Not surprisingly, these problems have yet to be fixed. 

Advocates of the catch share approach promised higher prices to fishermen, better stewardship over the ocean, and a general improvement in fishermen’s livelihoods. Instead we’re seeing an unaffordable quota leasing market where, for example, George’s Bank Cod (east) leased last year for an average cost of $2.48/pound while the average ex-vessel price to the boat was $1.08/pound. 

We’re seeing non owner-operator companies control upwards of 23% of access to a single fish species. Younger fishermen can't afford entry into the fishery. And we’re seeing the program incentivize a heavy shift of fishing effort onto near shore waters leaving inshore-dependent fishermen without fish to catch.

Fisherman Kevin McDonough testified to what 
few opportunities there are for younger fishermen.

How did we get here?

These problems aren’t unique to New England. In fact, many fishermen and researchers predicted these outcomes. Back in 1990 the first US Catch Share program - then called Individual Transferable Quotas or ITQs - began with the Surf Clam and Ocean Quahog fishery in the mid-Atlantic region. In a few short years the fishery, which previously had supported many owner-operators, was transformed into one controlled by just three multi-national corporations. Last year Lion Capital, a British private equity firm, paid $980 million to acquire Bumble Bee Foods and Bumble Bee’s subsidiary Snow’s Inc, which included the exclusive property rights to 23% of the United States’ clams. 

The Center for Investigative Reporting created this video 
which provides an overview of how catch share programs work.

Similar patterns have occurred in Iceland, New Zealand, Namibia, and many other countries around the world. In the case of Iceland, the Catch Share program had nothing to show in terms of rebuilding the fish stocks and meanwhile was undermining fishing community infrastructure and jobs. Fishermen took their grievances all the way to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and they won! In 2007 the UN ruled that privatization violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and soon afterwards the Icelandic government began a process to dismantle the program.

Who is behind the push for Catch Shares?

The broad strategy of implementing Catch Shares is ideologically driven and is backed by a unique alliance of conservative, free-market advocates as well as foundation-funded environmental groups.

The Walton Family Foundation of Walmart, for example, spent $20 million in 2012 for the sole purpose of promoting Catch Share programs with an explicit goal of commoditizing seafood into a global market that values high-volume, low-value ‘efficient’ fisheries. You know… the same ones that charge a fisherman $2.48/lb for the rights to fish and pays them $1.08 for that fish when they bring to shore. Its no wonder the fishermen keep saying we need more fish. If you’re told the only way to make ends meet is with volume not value what would you do? 

As I've written elsewhere with professor Seth Macinko at the University of Rhode Island, the core assumption of Catch Share ideology is that if we turn fisheries access into private property, than we’ll take better care of the fish. The problem of course, is that the fisheries already have an owner – the American public. The idea that private owners will automatically act as stewards to preserve their assets was proven dramatically na├»ve by the world financial crisis of 2008. Why should we assume now that what is bad for banks will then be good for fish?

Others who defend Catch Share ideology include the likes of the Koch brothers and the Charles Koch Foundation who have teamed up with organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund to heavily fund campaigns to promote Catch Shares.

With pressure and financial backing like that, its no wonder fishermen and allies in New England face such extreme resistance when seeking policy fixes to very clear problems that affect both the health of the ocean and fishing livelihoods.

Reforming Catch Shares

There is an increasing number of brave fishermen, Council members, and others who continue to shed light on the problems associated with catch shares and to offer solutions moving forward, including limits on quota accumulation, safeguards for inshore fishing areas, and more transparency on ownership trends. However, as more fishermen speak out, we’re hearing more and more about backlash from supporters of Catch Shares, where vocal fishermen are getting cut out of the leasing market, bullied out on the water, or socially ostracized.

Fisherman, Ron Borjeson, testifies to the NE Council 
about the impact of current policies and the need to ensure 
the scale of fisheries matches the scale of the marine ecosystem.

Amendment 18, the main policy vehicle to fix things, will be discussed October 1 at a NE Council meeting. Three years ago I recall the National Marine Fisheries Service announcing the heart-wrenching news that cod catch would be cut to disastrously low numbers. In typical fashion, some Council members took advantage of the news in order to distract from dealing with Amendment 18. I heard several Council members liken the situation to a tsumani that would surely take the entire fleet under and therefore we didn’t need any action at that time on Amendment 18. Today we’re receiving similar news about the cod stocks and already Council members are making similar claims to avoid or delay consideration of reform proposals.

Fisherman BG Brown shares how current policy is 
reducing opportunity for independent, owner-operator 
fishermen, and those with the lowest carbon footprint.

The real tsunami here is a global strategy to transform fisheries from publicly managed access into privatized property, effectively displacing independent family fishermen (those with the smallest ecological footprint), placing enormous pressure on the marine environment (including the cod stocks!), and ultimately turning fish into commodities for the global market.

We in New England can tip the scales away from policies that privatize the public commons and consolidate the fishing industry.  For the sake of current and future generations of fish and fishermen, the council must proceed to a vote on Amendment 18 to identify the best alternatives to a flawed system and protect the fisheries as a public trust.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Walking Fish at Farm Aid

This post comes to us from fisherman Chris McCaffity from the Walking Fish CSF in North Carolina. 

I was blessed with a chance to help represent Walking Fish at Farm Aid this year. 

The Walking Fish demo area 

The day started with a press event featuring Farm Aid founders Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Several small scale farmers explained how some corporations and politicians are controlling them and our food supply. Their stories mirrored much of what commercial fishermen experience. The best chance of survival for independent food producers is simply for consumers to purchase our products. Voting with our money can have more impact than voting for most politicians.

Pre-concert press conference

We were scheduled first at the skills tent immediately following the press event. The gates had just opened to the public so our audience was small to start with but grew through the presentation as a steady stream of people joined us. A chef from Hatteras demonstrated how to clean some seafood as I talked about how consumers across the state could access local seafood through Walking Fish.

Part of Walking Fish's seafood demo

After visiting educational booths with topics ranging from biodiesel to locally sourced food for schools we got to enjoy some music in a sea of spectators.

The crowds enjoy the music at Farm Aid

My daughter met Lilly May from the rock band White Stripes. Lilly told us about how one of her friends fished commercially as she graciously posed for a picture.

Making friends! 

It was inspiring to see so many people supporting independent food producers. Our collective purchasing power is the key to preserving our freedom to access healthy food from family farmers and fishermen.

You can learn more about Walking Fish at:

Please contact Chris if you are interested in learning about how we can sustainably manage our fisheries to limit waste and produce more seafood. Ask me about how you can place special orders for the snapper/grouper and other offshore seafood I harvest.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tell the EPA You Support the Fishermen of Bristol Bay by September 19

This post comes to us from Sarah Schumann, a Rhode Island shellfish harvester and Alaska salmon canner.

About once a week, I dream about low tide. Not a regular low tide, but a near-total emptying out of the bay. I dream that the soft bottom is suddenly exposed – and with it, acres of quahogs or clams, packed shell to shell. Then I go out and frolic in the abundance. I grab shellfish as if they were daisies in a summer field, filling bushel after bushel, delirious with joy.

Other fishermen have told me they have similar dreams. Nets plugged. Traps filled to the brim. Fish doubled up on the hook. I would guess that all humans have some form of this basic “abundance dream” buried deep in our psyches, but once our hunter-gatherer instincts have been activated by commercial fishing, it becomes a regular part of our nights - even long after we’ve retired from the water.

Boats in Dillingham, AK, awaiting the start of the spring season

The only place where I have seen this kind of abundance with my waking eyes is in Bristol Bay, Alaska. I’ve spent the last seven summers working at a salmon cannery here, far from my winter home of Rhode Island. From atop my perch above the eight giant pressure cookers that I operate, I stare out at a warehouse full of rows of bronze-colored cans full of salmon. As fast as the forklifts can load pallets of cans onto barges, we keep filling more and more of them. In the glow cast by the midnight sun, they resemble thousands of ingots of gold.

But some people have a different kind of abundance dream: one that involves real gold – and copper. In an area 125 miles northeast of here, the Pebble Partnership, an enterprise mostly owned by the Canadian company Northern Dynasty, hopes to develop the largest open-pit mine on North American soil. By digging a mile into the ground, they estimate they could get at $300-$500 billion in metals buried there.

The only problem is this: that huge mineral deposit lies directly underneath the headwater streams and wetlands that feed two of Bristol Bay’s most important river systems. Those streams and rivers are where five species of Pacific salmon return each year to spawn.

By now, many of you have heard of the proposed Pebble Mine. You may know that commercial fishermen, along with Native tribes and sports fishermen, have been battling this proposal for a decade. When they were rebuffed by many within their own state’s political system, they turned to the federal government – specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – to protect their fishery from the effects of mining.

What you may not have heard yet is that on July 19th, the EPA announced a proposed action to protect Bristol Bay fisheries by severely limiting the extent of mining that can take place there. This is the result of years of advocacy by the people who depend on Bristol Bay salmon. It is their last, best chance to prevent devastation of one of the world’s biggest salmon runs by industrial mining.

The EPA will be taking public comment on this proposed action until September 19th. Input from members and supporters of the commercial fishing industry and their supporters around the country will be key to pushing the EPA to stand by its own scientists’ advice and finalize the proposed protections for Bristol Bay.

You can sign onto a letter created by the Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, a coalition of fishermen around the nation who stand in solidarity with their peers in Bristol Bay. Or you can submit an original comment by following the instructions at the EPA’s own website.

Faced with two forms of astounding abundance – one animal and the other mineral – the people and tribes of Bristol Bay had a choice to make. An estimated 80% of the region’s year-round residents have chosen to oppose the mine. Not only is the mine enormous, they say – its total footprint could be as large as 50 square miles and it could require a 700-foot tailings dam to store its liquid waste – but it would be situated at one of the worst locations in the world: a totally pristine, intact natural habitat that supports the world’s most bountiful sockeye salmon run.

Three years of in-depth EPA research have expressed similar concerns. The EPA’s proposed protections state that routine operations of even a much, much smaller mine could disrupt stream flow and wetland habitat to the point of having a major adverse impact on salmon. EPA administrators are poised to act on that finding, by protecting Bristol Bay once and for all.

The EPA’s current public comment period is the last time that non-Alaskans will be able to weigh in on the outcome of Pebble Mine. You can help ensure that the years of hard work by Bristol Bay communities and fishermen finally pay off by signing a letter before September 19th.

Future Bristol Bay fishermen play in the boatyard


Thursday, August 21, 2014

From Ferguson to Fishing Communities, Racial Inequity is Real

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

I think by now we’ve all heard about Michael Brown, the 18-year African-American young man, who last week was crossing the street in broad daylight, unarmed, and was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Amidst the whirlwind of news that I’ve absorbed in desperate search to make sense of this tragedy as well as the ongoing violence, I was shocked to hear the Ferguson Mayor James Knowles recently say, “there's not a racial divide in the city of Ferguson."


I was also shocked to read the PEW Research Center’s national survey that found blacks and whites had sharply different reactions to the police shooting of Michael Brown. By about four-to-one, 80% of African Americans said the shooting in Ferguson raised important issues about race that merit discussion, compared to only 18% of whites. 

Another way to put it – 82% of white people surveyed believe this event does not merit a discussion around race.

I struggled to comprehend that so few white people believed race did not even merit a discussion. Seriously? Even in the wake of several other recent and senseless racially charged killings such as Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Oscar Grant? Even despite growing racial inequities in our schools, prisons, healthcare, government, food, and the list goes on and on? Really? 82% of white people don’t believe this merits a conversation about race?

But then I thought more and realized that 82% is probably right on the mark.

I’m a white male who grew up in a predominately white community and was granted privileges that I did nothing to earn. And although I’ve worked and lived for years in communities of color, right now I work mostly in white communities and amongst mostly white people. It’s been my experience that my white friends and colleagues struggle to talk about race.


In the fishing communities where I work, there are also small minorities of white people who don’t struggle to talk about race. And then, unfortunately, there are some who are straight up ignorant and racist. My guess is that neither make up the 82%. I think the majority of white people fall somewhere in the middle.

At a recent food systems conference, I participated in a workshop about dismantling racism. One of my white colleagues said, “My community is nearly all white people, we are not affected by racism, and I’m not sure where to go with this discussion.” 

To me this reflected much of what I hear in the communities where I work. And my take away is not that my white friends and colleagues are unwilling to acknowledge racism, but rather they struggle to enter the conversation in a meaningful way and they don't necessarily see themselves as connected to the racially-charged aspects of our society.

Part of the challenge white people face entering the fight against racism is personal: we reject overt acts of racism and/or we don’t see or experience racism on a daily basis. 

What we are learning is that even if we don’t identify ourselves in these ways, there is something called implicit bias, a physiological element of our brains that tends to favor one group of people over others almost without our explicit consent. 

Maybe it's that we are blind to our unearned privileges? Or perhaps we fear saying the wrong thing and want to avoid making things worse. Or perhaps we fear getting ostracized by other white people for standing in solidarity with people of color. And then there is the issue of white people not realizing some of the limitations placed on them is rooted in racism. Maybe it’s all, none, or much more than that.

But lets pretend those fears are true for some people. I’m not discounting the fears, but I would like to challenge other white people to go deeper. Become more aware of how you benefit from white privilege. Be brave to enter into the conversation. And question whether or not failing to speak out or act is the right course of action when inaction might mean the oppression or even death of innocent people.

At NAMA we’re taking up the challenge, especially as part of our role within the New England Food Solutions Network and the US Food Sovereignty Alliance where dismantling racial inequity in our food system is an explicit network value.

I imagine not everyone reading this will understand why NAMA or any group that works on marine conservation or food justice issues would be discussing racism. But I’m reminded of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

And to our allies and colleagues who are committed to advancing justice for the ocean, fishing communities, and the seafood system, I’d say Michael Brown’s death is highly relevant. I appeal to the white community to go deeper in our collective dialogue, remembering that we’re part of a much larger community of people, and to lean into the challenging discussions of our time.

If you want to go deeper, here are a couple additional articles that may help you start thinking about race differently:

  • Does Money Make You Mean? TED Talk by Paul Piff who has done research on privilege and how even those who know the deck is stacked in their favor tend to ascribe success to personal effort) 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Meet the Fish Locally Collaborative: 6 questions w/Susan West from Hatteras Island, NC

Welcome to the first edition of our new feature, Meet the Fish Locally Collaborative! This national network we're part of is filled with great, passionate people - fishermen, food activists, CSF managers, and more. Let's get to know some of them, starting with Susan West, from North Carolina. 

FLC member Susan West at her local farmers market

1. Tell us about yourself. 

I’m a journalist on Hatteras Island, NC and write about cultural and environmental issues in the context of the impact on people and places in coastal NC, especially commercial fishermen and fishing villages.  I help organize the Talk of the Villages forum and the Seafood Throwdown at Day at the Docks, an annual celebration of the island’s fishing heritage. I'm co-manager of Coastal Voices, a local community-led oral history project. My husband and many of my friends and neighbors are commercial fishermen.

2. How did you come to the work you do?

Happenstance or maybe fate.  I moved to Hatteras Island nearly 40 years ago and worked as a waitress and a postal service clerk, and helped organize a commercial fishing advocacy group on the island.  The editor of a local newspaper asked me to write a monthly column called “Fishing for a Living” in the 1990s, bringing me full circle back to my childhood ambition to be a writer.  Of course, back then I thought I’d write the great American novel.

3. Why do you do it and what are the values that guide you?

The world could learn a lot from small places.   Policy-makers often latch on to the misguided idea that people in small places are not worldly enough to understand the complexities of issues.   That’s pure nonsense and flies in the face of the intelligence, resiliency, and strength I observe here.

4. What excites you most about what you’re doing?

I like to think that my stories help dismantle the popular notions that local fishing communities are expendable and that commercial fishing is antiquated.

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

The biggest immediate challenges for community-based fishermen are policies rooted in economic efficiency theory that don’t factor in other values.  A long-term challenge but also one with immediate consequences is how little we really know about fish and about oceans.

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

I like being right here on Hatteras Island, eating sheepshead.