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

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”.

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