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

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tilting at Windmills

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

I lost a friend yesterday. Kim Libby was a rabble-rouser. She rubbed the right people the wrong way. She was ready to do things no one else was willing to do or wasn't yet ready to do. And she made no apologies for it. I had much to still learn from and share with Kim. But yesterday Kim passed away.

Kim pictured in the Food Sovereignty brochure doing what she loved: passing out shares of shrimp to the first ever group of CSF shareholders. Read the full document here.
An advocate and artist at heart, Kim used to call her style of activism as "tilting at windmills." What she meant was gathering all our strength together to make the changes we felt were necessary often against powerful forces. 

Kim and I met in the mid-1990s at New England Fishery Management Council meetings. I was a Greenpeace oceans campaigner, and, with only a couple of years under my belt, a greenhorn at the fisheries politics game.

Back then we were amongst those opposing the expansion and industrialization of the Atlantic herring and mackerel fisheries. Although this battle is now taken up by numerous organizations, back then only a small group of people – mostly fishermen - were raising concerns about this issue. Even some of Greenpeace’s environmental allies wouldn’t touch it. After all, mathematically, the herring fishery was not considered overfished. Numbers were advertising major escalation of the fishery inviting factory fishing operations to try to carve their way into the fishery. Amongst them the Atlantic Star, a 369 foot factory trawler whose existence unveiled a whole web of intrigue around the industrial pelagic fishing industry.

What Kim and other fishermen who dared to speak up at the time saw was not only the ecological implications of such a bad idea but also the social and economic consequences. We didn’t have to look too far to know that factory trawlers and industrial fisheries designed for extraction not fishing were going to undermine the recovery of this region’s ecosystem. The home of the sacred cod. The humpback whales. The puffins. The porpoises. The Bluefin tuna. All of these species feed on small pelagic fish such as herring and mackerel. Bluefin tuna migrate with their feed. No herring no tuna.

Back then we argued that because of herring’s role in the marine ecosystem, and with so many of its predators recovering or in recovery or listed as endangered species, escalation should be measured. At that time, the numbers were saying upwards of 540,000 MT can be caught – more than reported caught at the height of fishery and before its crash in the late 1970s. We were arguing that no more than 107,000 MT should be considered.

Ultimately, an unprecedented coming together of fishing communities and organizations throughout New England and across 13 countries spoke up against industrial development of small pelagic fisheries in general, but Atlantic herring specifically. 

Back then we were mocked by should-be-allies and downright adversaries for even bringing up the idea of 107,000 MT. Wouldn’t you know it… last year they decided to limit the fishery to 107,000 MT. Go figure.

Kim and others were amongst those group of fishermen who could see the bigger picture early on. And she remained that way. Her ability to see what others didn’t – yet – frustrated her. She would sometimes get impatient.

I remember one night in 2009 sitting at my kitchen table. Kim was frustrated and wanted to know why other communities didn’t see the potential that she did in the CSF movement.

Kim smiling while judging the Seafood Throwdown at the Common Ground Country Fair, with her husband and soulmate Gary in the forefront.
At the time, the first ever Community Supported Fishery (CSF) – Port Clyde Fresh Catch CSF – had completed its first year. Cape Ann Fresh Catch CSF was taking life and we were beginning to see some other CSF conversations start and bloom. We (NAMA) worked with Kim and family to start the CSF in Port Clyde before I came onboard. We helped get Cape Ann Fresh Catch off the ground with their advice.

Back then those of us working on creating CSFs, a model first presented by Susan Andreatta of NC Sea Grant, were mocked by the status quo. Most of those entrenched in the current system would talk to us in such a way that you knew they really wanted to reach out, pat you on the head and say “oh how nice. What a cute idea. Good for you.” And as you can imagine, Kim would give them a piece of her mind!

Kim’s early lessons from the Port Clyde operations were key to what has since blossomed into a movement of communities working to take back control of their SEAfood chain. CSFs are popping up everywhere. And we owe it to Kim and her family for being brave, taking those first steps, and tilting at those windmills.

Back in the winter of 2007/2008 when I was being considered for the job of NAMA’s coordinating director, Kim was on NAMA’s board. I was so glad to see her name on that list.

During our first staff and board retreat Kim told me she was rooting for me to be the new director because “we’re alike. We both like to tilt at windmills.”

Kim was an activist, an artist, a fisherman’s wife, a fishing community advocate, a trail blazer, a mother, a sister, a daughter, and a friend. I’ll miss the strength of her shoulders at those windmills. I hope she can see that her hard work and dedication paved the path for a lot of strong people who are now part of a movement many believed would never exist.

Thank you, Kim. Hailey and I say goodbye.