This past week I visited fishermen, chefs, activists, fish workers, and community leaders in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. It wasn't the epic 13,000-mile nationwide tour we took last year but this mini-version of America the Bountiful Tour (more are coming!) allowed us to connect to our communities and strengthen our network.
From the docks to the dinner tables and the processing facilities to the festivals, I heard stories of pain and loss. Plus stories of strength and awesomeness. Here are a few takeaways:
Fishing communities are struggling. I spoke with young fishermen put out of work and unable to afford access meanwhile Bregal Partners, outside investor multi-national corporation, is buying millions of dollars worth of fish quota. I spoke with a long-time fisherman who is paying more to lease fish quota than the price at the docks. I spoke with crew about basic working waterfront infrastructure, like ice machines, that are crumbling under consolidation. I heard from a marine biologist about climate change shifting ocean ecosystems faster than our science assessments can keep up resulting in poor decision making. And, I heard from a major grocery store chain VP about their love for industrial-scale salmon aquaculture (gag!).
(Clockwise from top left: Fisherman Tim Rider and Health Care Without Harm Stacia Clinton discuss access to institutions; Portsmouth State Fishing Pier; Andrea Thomlison and fisherman Lucas Raymond promoting New Hampshire Community Seafood; Me and a new friend enjoying a fish eyeball at the Know Your Fish DInner with Black Trump and One Fish Foundation.)
I also heard that fishing communities are getting creative and fighting back. I heard from Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) organizers about expanding their customers and connecting to restaurants. I heard from young fishermen about starting a young fishermen's network and raising their voices. I listened to long-time fishermen about collaboration with scientists to improve stock assessment models. I learned about amazing fish and seafood curriculum making its way into k-12 schools. And I saw connections being made to link-up community-based fisheries to local institutional buyers. You can listen to Kayla Cox of New England Fishmongers to learn more about some of these efforts.
I struggle with the urgency that I hear coming from the fishing community who are faced with such tremendous loss. At one of the dinners I attended, one of the community members said, "The situation sounds so dire. How do you ever find hope to keep going?".
My answer was really paraphrasing something I've heard from Food First: Hope means you do something because it is the right thing to do regardless of the outcome. How do you keep from losing hope? Ally yourself with those for whom giving up hope is not an option.
Optimism means you do something because you are confident of the outcome, and frankly, we don't know if we can reverse the catastrophe that is already underway. But we must work to change the systems and turn our hopes into reality.
- Brett Tolley, NAMA's National Program Coordinator