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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

You Can’t Be Neutral in a Moving Sea

Why the Struggle of Family Fishermen, Fishworkers, and Allies Matters to Me

This post comes to us from Shira Tiffany, JOIN Fellow and NAMA Community Organizer. This post is longer and offers stories.

Seeking a quiet spot to talk while away on family vacation, my sister and I sit cross-legged on a gravel driveway. We’re sweaty and attracting a swarm of mosquitoes. She listens as I describe unknown variables in my decision making algorithm, I know and am concerned about factory farming and agribusiness but I don’t know much about fisheries policy. What if I don’t personally connect to it?” I ask her and the empty dirt road as I consider a position organizing family fishermen, fishworkers, and allies as part of a fellowship with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) and the Jewish Organizing Institute and Network (JOIN) for Justice.

I applied to be a JOIN fellow to gain skills to facilitate communities accessing their power. Two years earlier at Garfield School in Northern California I tutored Leonardo, a 4th grade student who immigrated with his mother from Michoacán, Mexico, and who never ate school lunch. He showed me the hamburger on a soggy white bun, moist from the condensation inside the microwaved plastic wrapper with a list of ingredients neither he nor I could pronounce and explained that it wasn’t “real food”. The industrial food system feeding Leonardo and millions of children like him is based on practices of economic and environmental injustice, profiting from unfair and dangerous working conditions in slaughterhouses, chemical intensive farming, and unhealthy animals treated with antibiotics on factory farms.

School lunch tray with a frozen hamburger microwaved in a plastic wrapper
Garfield is one of three schools in the district where all students receive free lunch because a majority of students live below the federal poverty level. As a member of the American public, I am fueling this food system with my taxpayer dollars. Howard Zinn wrote, "you can't be neutral on a moving train," which inspires me to honor my responsibility to work to change even huge seemingly immovable systems. We have the same amount of power and responsibility for serving this burger to Leonardo as his mother.

I knew about and cared about corporate interests exploiting the food system. But how is the fight of family fishermen and fishworkers part of that broader story? I didn’t know many stories of family fishermen and fishworkers or of corporate interests in the seafood supply chain. My intuition was that hearing these stories would spark that same sense of complicity in an unjust system.
In the past four months as a community organizer with the NAMA, my experiences have answered my question I asked my sister in the summer heat about why the struggle of family fishermen, fishworkers, and allies matters to me. And why it might matter to you.
The same issues of economic and environmental justice that plague agriculture are at the core of the seafood industry. Corporate interest is pushing for catch share policies which privatize the ocean and favor high volume, low value fishing at the expense of marine ecology and access for community based fishermen. Walmart, through the Walton Family Foundation, has spent over $20 million promoting catch shares. Walmart supports political policies supporting these practices because they profit from selling the final product. Seafood is part of the same industrial food system we pay into to feed Leonardo.
How are fishermen, fishworkers, and allies fighting for food access, and economic and environmental justice? A couple of months ago I sat in a circle of 25 folks whose previously bundled faces lit from below by tea lights in Dixie cups were now uncovered and lit brightly in Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores’ (CCT) office in New Bedford, Massachusetts. I scanned the circle and recognized a few faces from a gathering a few weeks before of fishermen, fishworkers, and student allies.
Real Food Challenge student Drew Fournier picketing at fish processing plant NORPEL
I didn’t see Antonia, a worker in a fish processing plant, who had quietly shared her story of immigrating and supporting her children back home by working 100 hours a week at $8/hour with no overtime. Antonia and her co-workers are fighting for fair and safe working conditions. Their campaign, Pescando Justicia/Fishing for Justice, coordinated by CCT, had just taken an action against NORPEL (Northern Pelagic Group LLC) and we were at CCT’s office to debrief the night. Some workers had attempted to negotiate with NORPEL management while other workers and allies paced the sidewalk of Fish Island chanting, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. The people united will never be defeated.” We learned that four workers had been fired that night for demonstrating (read this article and sign a petition to rehire workers) and that Antonia was taken to the emergency room after she was shoved by the secretary as she walked off the job.

Workers at fish processing plant NORPEL and members of Pescando Justicia/Fishing for Justice Campaign
In the opposite corner of our circle in CCT’s office, listening to this news, sat Drew Fournier. Drew is a student at UMass Amherst collaborating with fishermen and fishworkers to determine a sustainable seafood purchasing policy to bring to UMass Amherst’s administration. Real Food Challenge targets institutional purchasing power to shift production from exploitative supply chains to fair and sustainable ones. Drew was standing in solidarity with the fishworkers as a result of Real Food Challenge Northeast’s collaboration with NAMA to get real seafood dished up in university dining halls.

This circle was an answer to my question. A meaningful chapter on seafood in the story of food justice illuminated for me in Garfield’s cafeteria was the unfolding before me. This circle was part of the larger story of fishermen, fishworkers, and allies fighting for food access, and economic and environmental justice!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

NOAA Chief Outlines Priorities For Future of Sustainable Seafood

This post comes to us from Colles Stowell, research and education director for Cape Ann Fresh Catch. He's been blogging from the Seafood Summit in New Orleans. Last month, the Fish Locally Collaborative sent a letter to NOAA supporting their draft 5-year strategic plan. So we were glad to hear they are continuing to get the word out about issues we've been bringing up for years! Read on for more from NOAA.

NOAA chief Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, speaking at the Seafood Summit in New Orleans

The SeaWeb Seafood Summit began this morning with Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, painting a broad picture of the current state of affairs, both the accomplishments and the challenges.
As someone who was previously NOAA’s chief scientist and Pew Charitable Trust’s Marine Aquaculture Task Force chief, Sullivan spoke authoritatively about NOAA’s mission as an environmental intelligence agency.
“The cornerstone of NOAA is prediction,” she said. “It is the most powerful dimension of environmental intelligence. To know what’s coming, and plan ahead.” This includes everything from predicting the path of a tropical storm brewing in the South Atlantic, to daily tide tables.
Sullivan outlined three core priorities for NOAA going forward:
  1. Invest in additional observational infrastructure, such as satellites, buoys, aircraft, etc. These are the underpinnings of the agency’s environmental intelligence;
  2. Evolve National Weather Service to take weather readings more frequently and disseminate that info more broadly and faster; and,
  3. Provide services to help communities become more resilient. This means information, infrastructure, and other resources to enhance societal, economic and ecological awareness and balance. Translation: helping small coastal communities help themselves, with programs such as those to help improve local fisheries.
She then gave a frank assessment of the state of US fisheries. She highlighted upticks in U.S. commercial seafood landings and corresponding revenue increases in recent years. The number of stocks that are considered overfished or where “overfishing” is occurring has either decreased or leveled off, she said.
However, there are challenges to overcome. Climate change and habitat loss are significant factors affecting seafood sustainability, she said. Couple that with the fact that the global population is expected to jump 28% from 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050. But the global abundance of wild fish is flat or decreasing.
So sustainable, responsible aquaculture is going to become even more critical than it is now, she said. Its benefits extend beyond the farmers and distributors to communities, where economic and health benefits have a broad reach.
“Over half of the seafood we eat comes from aquaculture,” she said. In 2011, the US generated 1.3 billion pounds of aquaculture-raised seafood compared to 5 billion harvested commercially. But largely because of regulatory uncertainty and some public perception issues, aquaculture doesn’t get the credit it deserves she said. “We need to stop exporting aquaculture jobs to other countries” with more friendly regulations.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud such as mislabeling is another global challenge that NOAA and the current administration are targeting as another hindrance to sustainable seafood economies. Sullivan noted the recent task force launched by President Obama to combat Illegal, Unregulated, and Underreported (IUU) fishing as an important step toward leveling the playing field.
Developing better enforcement tools and improving collaboration between industry, conservation scientists and policy makers will minimize IUU.
Sullivan aptly summed up her talk by reminding everyone in attendance that “healthy sustainable fisheries are central to our planet.”