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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How do you define family farmers and fishermen?

It's the International Year of Family Farming, according to the United Nations. 

They write: "The 2014 International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) aims to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farming by focusing world attention on its significant role in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development, in particular in rural areas."

But how we define "family farms" is an important way of understanding agriculture, write our partners at Farm Aid. For Farm Aid, family farmers are those families who "exercise ownership and control" over their farm and the decisions they make regarding their business. 

But it's not just family farmers who are struggling in a system that is increasingly consolidated and controlled by corporate interests - family fishermen are, too. 

But if we have to dig deeper when we're talking about farmers, it pays to start a dialogue about family fishermen as well. 

How do you define "family fishermen?" Let us know in the comments. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

What We're Reading Now

Would you eat farmed salmon that were fed genetically modified yeast? Ok. Farmed oysters instead? What about Maine lobster? 

"It's the water." The California drought is affecting not only beer, but walnuts, broccoli, lettuce and more. Some farmers are tearing out hundreds of acres of crops. And as pastures dry up, dairy farmers are spending extra for feed and feeling the pinch

Short films aiming to fix food. Will suing the food industry help? Hog farms could use some fixing; corporate control of the food system could, too. 

Strange: Niman beef is wrapped up in a big recall, and China bans US seafood imports. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

From a Farm Bill to a Fish Bill, We'll Work With What We Have

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

Earlier this month I was in Washington D.C. the day after the Farm Bill passed through Congress. After a train power outage (that's another story) I had to run to make my first meeting at the USDA. I arrived late but felt at ease once I looked around the table and met eyes with many of our family farm and sustainable business allies. 

American Sustainable Business Council members at the White House

Then the topic of the Farm Bill came up. I saw those same eyes turn to unease. There was silence. A couple of sighs. Followed by a deep breath and a collective “Okay here we are, lets work with what we’ve got."

Sitting around that table I closed my eyes for a second. Earlier that same week Congress held its first hearing to discuss a draft Fish Bill. I imaged a few years out, when the Fish Bill passes, what would our collective reaction be? Will our eyes show approval with the Fish Bill’s outcome? Or will they show something different? Then I quickly opened my eyes and said to myself hey, I should pay attention and learn something here!

Our partners at the National Family Farm Coalition, who were among the friendly faces in DC, put out this statement  about the Farm Bill. Its no surprise there are some good aspects and some not-so-good aspects, with much of the good due to hard fought efforts by the NFFC and many others. 

I was struck by a comment by NFFC’s board president Ben Burkett, who said,

 “From the first Farm Bill in 1933, the purpose has been to ensure fair prices to farmers so that they can provide food and fiber for the American people. Now we have an export-driven Farm Bill and are told that we are producing food for the world, which benefits only multi-national corporations.”

Striking, because if you switch the dates of the Farm Bill and replace farmers with fishermen, you might as well be talking about the Fish Bill.

The Fish Bill, also known as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, first became law in 1976 and gets revisited and updated by congress every 10 years or so. Like the Farm Bill, over time the benefits are concentrating into an ever- smaller segment of the fishing industry, leaving family fishers and the public high and dry

As the fishing fleet consolidates into fewer and bigger operations, we’re not only losing ground ecologically, socially, and economically, but politically, too. Fewer voices are showing up to the table, which translates into policy that favors export-driven business and ignores the wisdom and needs of family fishermen as well as the needs of the ocean.

The needs of family fishermen are pretty simple; fair price, access to local markets, and protection of the resources which fishing businesses depend upon. These needs are not that far off from the needs of family farmers, small-scale sustainable businesses in general, or to go a step further, from the needs of a healthy local food system.

Later on that day, after joining our partners the American Sustainable Business Council for meetings with White House and Congress, I closed my eyes again to imagine a few years out when the Fish Bill passes. 

I saw all our partners including HealthCare Without Harm, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, New England Food Solutions, Slow Food, Real Food Challenge, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, and more, all standing shoulder to shoulder with the fishing families who fought hard for policies to save the fish, save the community based fishermen, and strengthen the local seafood value chain. The Fish Bill passes. We take a deep breath. And we say, “Okay, now let’s work with what we’ve got”.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why the West Virginia Chemical Spill Hits Closer than you Think

This post comes to us from Niaz Dorry, NAMA's coordinating director. 

Back in the early 90s I lived in a little town called Chester, in the northwestern panhandle of West Virginia right on the banks of the Ohio River, population 2,500. I was there as a toxics campaigner for Greenpeace, and I often say living there renewed my faith in humanity. It’s true. The people there taught me the importance of being true to what’s important and putting everything on the line for what you believe.

The Ohio flows into the Mississippi.
When I lived in Chester, I met Debbie Cheetham, the wife of the local minister. She was dying when I met her. She used to work for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and part of her job involved taking water samples along the river. 

Once when I was visiting her by her bedside, she was connected to machines and tubes, and she told me of the day she stumbled upon a few men doing the same thing she was doing but who were wearing protective suits. She asked her supervisors why she wasn’t given protective suits. The answer: they didn’t have any in women’s sizes. 

Debbie was convinced her mysterious illness that was leading to the systemic shutdown of her body had something to do with her exposure. But it’s hard to prove when you live in a place with so much historical pollution.

Debbie is just one example of someone caught in the cross fires of polluters. The people who live in the Ohio River Valley, the air, water, land, mountains, animals - the entire ecosystem is in the line of fire. And yes, even the marine environment is affected by what recently happened here. 

In January,  an estimated 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM — a chemical mixture used in the coal production process in this case by Freedom Industries — spilled into the Elk River. Via the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, the Elk is part of the watershed of the Mississippi River.

The area is considered expendable. Already polluted by decades of industry, the entire Ohio River Valley seems to be under consistent barrage of chemical attack. When I lived there as a Greenpeace toxics campaigner, we were working with the community to fight the world’s largest toxic waste incinerator, Waste Technologies Incorporated – or WTI.

One of the ways WTI and other companies get away with what they do in places like the Ohio River Valley is to hide behind history. It’s hard to pin something on one company when you have decades of poison running through the valley. And federal agencies don’t have the gumption to do the right thing.

But what we all need to remember is that we are part of a larger ecosystem, and what happens in the Ohio River Valley touches all of us - whether we can see it up close or not. What washes down those rivers ends up in the Mississippi, and it flows down to the Gulf of Mexico, making a dead zone even more dead. But it doesn’t stop at the waters in Gulf of Mexico. What we painfully learned during the BP oil disaster is how much it’s all connected.

After the spill, NOAA announced that the Bluefin tuna populations will be affected by the spill as the tuna use parts of the Gulf as their spawning grounds. NOAA’s “analysis is based on an assumption that up to 20% of baby tuna were killed or rendered unable to reproduce by the spill. That translates to a possible 4% reduction in the future population, though the eventual figure could be even smaller.”

Okay, fair enough. Small impact. But keep in mind that even the smallest fishing infraction that might affect the tuna population adversely is taken seriously by NOAA and the environmental community. We’re told that we shouldn’t eat tuna because the species are in trouble. But somehow this small impact is okay.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said “we’re all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

West Virginia may seem far away from you. But it’s as close as the air you breathe and the seafood on your plate.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What we're reading now

Iced-in oyster beds. No rain is no bueno for Coho salmon's route to the ocean. Why Coca-Cola is cleaning up watersheds. Restaurants are cooking with bottled water one month after the West Virginia chemical spill.

A first-ever quota for Maine's glass-eel fishery; what closures did for Maine's scallop fishery; skeeters vs. bugs, also in Maine. From the Island Institute, a report on integrating fisheries into approaches to climate change. 

Obama signs the Farm Bill, and it includes crop insurance for catfish farmers. Why tipped workers are more likely to be on food stamps than wage-earners. "The mother of all systemic problems."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

New England, Say No to Pebble Mine!

This video and post come from one of our partners, Sarah Schumann, a Rhode Island fisherman who has worked in Bristol Bay salmon canneries for the past six summers. Sarah also runs Eating with the Ecosystem, an educational event-based organization that promotes a place-based approach to sustainable seafood in New England. 

Last month's release of the EPA document that lays the scientific groundwork for making a decision on protecting Bristol Bay's salmon fishery is great news(Save Bristol Bay has a good summary of the report on their site.). The fact that the EPA is even considering putting the area off-limits to mining to save the fishery is a testament to the great things that fishermen can accomplish when they work together on a nationwide basis! 

But, this is just one step - there is no formal protection in place until the EPA takes the NEXT step - to use their Clean Water Act authority to deny a mining permit. And they won't make that decision until we force them to do that. So, the next few months are CRITICAL to urging the EPA to protect Bristol Bay. 

Can I ask those on this list to help me continue to spread the word here in New England?
  • Now is a great time to get letters to the editor in to our local papers, celebrating the release of the EPA assessment and calling on them to take action to protect Bristol Bay. I am putting together a few letters written from the point of few of commercial fishermen, but would like to ask for volunteers to submit them to your local papers. Contact me if you could do this. Chances are it won't get published anyway due to high traffic, but if you CC your senator when you submit it, then it will still have an impact!
  • Second, I am doing some traveling to spread the word and share the wonderful documentary Red Gold. Are you interested in showing it at a venue in your locale? Please let me know -- I will come to you with DVD in hand! Happy to do a screening for your organization, your friends, your's worth a watch. 
  • I'm also looking for people in Maine and Massachusetts who have fished in Alaska, for a small video project like the one above.
  • if you know anyone who lives in one of these states and has a connection to Alaska fisheries (Bristol Bay or otherwise), please put them in touch with me!
Thank you for your support. I also thought you might be interested in:

Monday, February 3, 2014

What we're reading now

What we're reading: 

Is the network the 21st century unit of action? And how do networks relate to ecosystem economies

We see the network approach working for new business models and policy campaigns. Dock to Dish's business model relies on a network of participating fishermen who all fish responsibly and are careful stewards of their fish. A network of fishermen, activists, and food lovers around the country have been supporting Bristol Bay fishermen in their efforts to stop Pebble Mine from being built nearby - and the EPA agrees with their position. 

What does the new Farm Bill mean for the sustainable food movement? Without subsidy reform, will food remain "dishonestly priced?"And what about labor reform? Looks like some new strong women leaders are showing the way. 

Lawmakers are considering a "buy local" campaign for Massachusetts seafood; temps are rising and fish are shrinking; Southern California's marine sanctuaries are working - fish are bigger and there's more biodiversity, and the boundaries are being honored. 

What did we miss?