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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Positive Vibrations

By Niaz Dorry, NAMA's Coordinating Director

I had the pleasure of taking part in the annual conference of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies – or BALLE – in Bellingham, Washington last week. Aside from being inspired by the work BALLE networks are doing, I was deeply touched by how our work was received by the conference attendees.  As soon as I sat down from giving my plenary talk titled "Who Fishes Matters" exploring opportunities for creating local living marine economies, the person next to me leaned over and said, “you just changed my mind.” Wow. It could have ended there and I would have been happy. But it didn’t end there. The BALLE community’s recognition that who fishes indeed matters has been heartwarming.

With each kind word I felt the circle of support expand. It was palpable. It’ll take dozens of blog entries to cover all the memorable interactions, but I felt one in particular was worth noting here because of its connection to the fishing community where I live.

Peter Warshall
It was a conversation with Peter Warshall of Dreaming New Mexico. Turns out Peter was a good friend of the poet Charles Olson and visited him in Gloucester on numerous occasions. A native of Massachusetts, Olson spent much of his time in Gloucester and even devoted much of his poetry – including "Maximus of Gloucester," a series of poems – to America’s oldest settled fishing port. Peter said after hearing about our work all he could think of was “Charles would have loved this work.” It would be an understatement to say that I was humbled by Peter’s comments not only because of who Peter is and the work he does to transform "policies, habits and consumption so they reflect the ecological and local realities of watersheds, foodsheds and energysheds,” but also who Olson was.

Peter’s feedback left me in high spirits and I left the conference feeling energized. But it wasn’t just the response to our work that left me feeling we can change the world, it was the entire spirit of those present. There was not only a sense that “we can do this” but proof that we are already on the way and our community is rapidly expanding.

A memorable meal at Jeremy's
As I envisioned this broader community, I couldn’t help think about the phrase “community supported fishery” or CSF. It’s no secret that we have been big supporters of the creation of CSFs for variety of reasons. I’m sure if you are engrossed in the operations of a CSF it’s easy to get caught up in the seafood selling elements of the program. But it’s the community building element of the model that has captured my imagination and that of those I’ve visited on this coast to coast trip, who include Bellingham’s Jeremy Brown and Anne Mosness, two people who have fished in the Pacific Northwest for decades. Anne’s family for generations. You haven't tasted seafood till you've had Anne's smoked salmon (complete with freshly foraged wild mushrooms) and Jeremy's canned tuna!

Anne's wild salmon and mushrooms
Community building is NAMA’s main motivation behind CSFs. Sure… the model ensures fishermen get paid a fair price for catching less fish and consumers get a handle on their source of marine based foods. But we at NAMA are focused on long-term social change on the water to benefit our communities, the environment and our economies. We can’t realize these changes if the fishermen who can do the most ecological good and who are most affected by myopic, micromanagement currently common practice in the fisheries world are not socially empowered and economically supported. Such social and economic isolation keeps them from taking their proper seat at the table where issues pertinent to their lives and livelihoods are being debated.

It’s the social element that hurts ecologically minded, community-based fishermen most. Many of them feel totally alone. I can’t tell you how often I hear small-scale fishermen say, “no one cares about us.” CSFs are putting them in touch with those who care. Seafood Throwdowns are showing them first hand the love their communities have for them in a fun, creative, interactive way.

That’s why something Naz Sanfilippo, a Gloucester fisherman, said echoes in my head all the time. He said, “in these dark times of fisheries management, the CSF is a beacon of hope.” Charles Olson would have probably loved hearing that from Naz.

This beacon of hope is now brighter from the additional light of the BALLE community. I know I can already see a brighter path.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Numbers Don't Add Up

By Brett Tolley, NAMA's community organizer

I recently had an interesting conversation with a Maine fisherman.

The New England groundfish fishery is becoming increasingly unaffordable to smaller-scale family fishermen. Most agree. Getting to the heart of why and what that shift implies is less agreeable.

Here’s just one concrete example of what unaffordability looks like from the captain's seat of a Gulf of Maine small-scale fisherman.

Paul (fake name) owns and operates his own 40 ft. boat. He’s been fishing for 20 years and strongly believes in ecological stewardship. His current permit allows him to catch about ¼ of what he needs to make a year’s salary. In the new sector management system permits are tied to quota, or a percentage of the total allowable catch. The quota can be bought, sold, and traded. For Paul, in order to compensate for his small quota percentage he needs to lease from other boats.  

When Paul enters the leasing market he is competing with companies five times his size and boats that can harvest five times his capacity. Already he is at a disadvantage. But it doesn’t stop there. Larger-scale boats can also target fish when the market price is highest and thus they drive up the leasing costs.

Here’s the example: Paul relies on white hake for his catch and currently his quota is too low. If he cannot lease white hake it threatens to shut Paul down for the season. Right now the going rate to lease white hake is $.75/lb (keep in mind this is just for the rights to fish). During the summer months Paul earns anywhere from $.75-1.00/lb. at the docks for white hake. For Paul the numbers don’t add up.

Paul pays $.75/lb. just for the rights to fish and then (without factoring in gas costs, crew, ice, etc.) he earns somewhere between $.75-1.00/lb. at the docks??

How could anyone make a profit with those numbers? They don't. Larger-scale boats are causing the leasing price to be extraordinarily high because they can target white hake during the poor-weather months (typically during the winter time) when the price may exceed $2.00/lb. and when smaller-scale boats won't be able to access the area. Larger-scale boats drive the leasing price and in the end Paul's out of luck.

The result: Paul and other fishermen like him lease their fishing rights to the larger-scale boats.

What’s the problem? Some folks might say, “Survival of the fittest. The boats who are the most economically efficient will outcompete the rest. They will harvest the most, in the shortest amount of time, and offer the cheapest prices to consumers. And since the fleet is operating under a strict total allowable catch, it’s all sustainable.”

The problem is that our status quo rewards those with the largest-scale boats and the deepest pockets. Paul brings values to the table that go beyond just economic efficiency yet he is not rewarded or incentivized. See our Who Fishes Matters page to learn more. In short, Paul brings higher ecological, social, and economic values to his community. If fishermen like Paul are getting squeezed out it poses long-term problems like the ones we are seeing in the land-based food system that is driven by industrialization. i.e. depleted lands, food-related disease such as diabetes, and displaced family farmers.

Affordability and access to fish are a major threat to family fishermen, the health of our oceans, and the quality of our food system. Help us in taking action and spreading the word. Supporters are invited to write a Letter-to-the-Editor to their local newspapers as part of a New England wide drive to increase awareness. You can also ‘sign’ our petition.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Badlands - Badfish

By Niaz Dorry, NAMA's Coordinating Director

I got pulled over in Illinois. I’ve been driving across the country with my dog Hailey heading to BALLE’s national conference, amongst other stops.

Getting pulled over is never fun. The highway patrol officer asked me what I was up to… was I on vacation or what? I told him I was headed to Bellingham, Washington to give a talk on fisheries issues. He asked for the typical stuff… my driver’s license and registration. But he also asked for my business card. I gave him a card and one of our seafood wallet cards. He went off to his car as I anxiously awaited my fate.

He came back and handed me my stuff plus a written warning (you have to read the whole blog to find out what I was warned about). Then he went on to talk about fisheries issues. He said the reason he was interested was that along the Mississippi River, where he lives, small scale commercial fishermen are losing their businesses to fish farms, imported seafood and big chain stores and with that has come loss of tradition, livelihoods, access to good local fish, businesses and a social element of their communities which are deeply connected to the river’s environment. Sound familiar? It seems even in the mid-west who fishes matters.

We went on to discuss what’s going on around the world and how fishing communities everywhere are facing the same problems.

I was grateful to only have a warning and went on my way. As I drove through the mid-west stopping at various places for meals, I couldn’t help noticing the seafood items on the menus… “farm-raised white fish” was the most predominant item. How much more generic can we get? White fish? What is that? What happened to recognizing our food? Do we put “round red globes” on the menu instead of tomatoes? Or “red meat” instead of beef or lamb?

Going through South Dakota was one of the highlights of the trip. Having never been there before, I was looking forward to taking a couple of days to hike through the Badlands and the Black Hills. As I expected, the place took my breath away. The history and scenery was amazing. I could imagine what the place looked liked when the buffalo were running free, the original people taking care of the land and there were no billboards advertising all you can eat shrimp. Almost all the seafood advertised in this area comes either from factory farms or factory fishing operations.

Spearfish Creek Canyon, South Dakota
It was on the menu of a tiny little place called Cheyenne Crossing that I noticed particular attention to where their seafood comes from. Alaskan cod and halibut were the main items featured, which are not bad considering the Pacific Northwest is the closest place to this part of the world where marine based fishing is taking place. So in many ways, they were offering as local as they could. But Cheyenne Crossing is right on the Spearfish Creek where fishing used to be a mainstay. Mining in the Black Hills affected the river’s health and it has taken years for it to be considered healthy. Recreational fishing happens on the Creek, but I couldn’t tell if there was any fish from the Creek actually on any menus. Which took me back to the stop in Illinois and the story the highway patrol officer told me about their local fisheries.

I realized even more the importance of our work on fleet diversity and maintaining healthy marine fisheries that feed our food systems, our communities, our economies and our lives without undermining the health of the ocean.

By the way, I was pulled over for following too closely. I didn’t want to argue about how the car in front me pulled in from the left lane once s/he saw the highway patrol car in the median. Talking about whether it would have been safer for me to break suddenly or pull abruptly in the left lane was not going to be as much fun or productive as the conversation I ended up having with the officer. Talking about fisheries instead put us on a level playing field and created a connection between two ships passing on the Illinois toll road.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Live from Fleet Diversity Workshop!

The conference ended somewhat abruptly with the PDT taking the role of synthesizing the workgroups efforts and sending out a summation via email, which we will post as soon as we get it.

Afternoon update:

The four breakout groups are now reporting on what they came up with for Fleet Diversity goals and measures. There seems to be a consensus that Community Fishing Associations should be developed as a means to address fleet diversity.

Allocation limits are problematic across the board and that more analysis would need to be done to find a way to put any sort of meaningful cap in place.

"Use it or lose it" provisions are getting some support. Dave Goethal refers to them as "Slipper Captains."

It looks like the meeting is breaking up...analysis later.

Post lunch update:
Interesting that this workgroup is so focused on Community Fishing Associations yet have not even discussed baseline leasing restrictions, owner-operator requirements, and fully dismissed any kind of quota set asides.

Without someone to champion these ideas, they are getting no voice at all.

Hi All! Live from Danvers, MA today we'll be covering the Fleet Diversity workshop. The NEFMC Groundfish comittee, SSC and Groundfish Advisory committee have been broekn out into four workgroups. I'll be covering one of them, workgroup 1.

So far, the scuttlebutt is that the council doesn't want to deal with Fleet Diversity. They want to let the market deal with any issues.

Workgroup One is having a hard time seeing that there is any problem. There has been some productive discussion about Community based organizations as being the answer to fleet diversity. But some of the more vocal members of the group are arguing that there is no problem and therefore nothing should be done, let the markets do their job.

Allocation limits conversation is revolving around the difficulties of doing anything to split out species from permits, permits from sectors etc.,

11:30 AM Update
The morning agenda is:

The group is asked to recommend what goals and objectives should be considered if the
Council pursues an action on fleet diversity.

Topics to consider:

• What social and economic goals and objectives could be considered for fleet
diversity and accumulation limits? 
• Which are desirable for the groundfish fishery?
• Are the current goals in the FMP adequate for addressing fleet diversity and
accumulation limits?
• Should goals for the management plan be consistent through time, or should they
respond to conditions in the fishery?
• The National Standard guidelines prohibit the attainment of excessive shares in a
fishery. What should be considered an “excessive share”?
• How should changes in the fishery be monitored, and are current data sources
adequate? Are there undesirable changes that should be avoided or watched for?

Work Product:

The group should prepare answers to the following questions:
1) Which goals are more important related to diversity and accumulation limits? 
2) What is an excessive share? 
3) Should diversity goals and accumulation limits be responsive to changing industry

The workgroup has focused on Community Fishing Associations as one of of the goals that should be explored to deal with diversity. They largely got hung up on how to deal with excessive shares owning to the difficulty of splitting out permits according to species etc. And lastly, they agree that the Council should include an annual review of these issues as part of the priority setting process.

There is a general sense at this table, even an indignity that this "issue" is even on the table. "Why are we dealing with this?"
"No other fisheries have to deal with this, for example Redcrab!"

The indignity and lack of recognition that there may be a legitimate concern out there is lost on some of the participants here. It has always struck me as very strange that there is such a disconnect from what politicians are saying in public, what we hear from a lot of fishermen and what is happening in the council. Why is that?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fleet Diversity once again on the docket at NEFMC

by Sean Sullivan, NAMA's Marketing, Development and Outreach Associate

A lot has changed in a year. A year ago, the New England Fisheries Management Council was not talking about Fleet Diversity. Politicians were not talking about the negative impacts to communities and smaller scale community based fishermen from Catch Shares. The mainstream press and non-mainstream press was not talking about our local seafood as sustainable.

Now, far be it for us to take all the credit for all these things happening, but uh, well, uh, yeah, actually maybe we should tke some credit here. A year ago, NAMA's Brett Tolley presented the New England Fisheries Management Council's (NEFMC) Multi-species committee (now called the Groundfish Committee) wth the outcomes of the Fleet Vision Project. One of outcomes he suggested they consider is preserving a diverse fleet. Now almost exactly a year later, the NEFMC has convened a workshop on Fleet Diversity. I cannot guarantee it, but I can say with confidence that if Brett had not championed this issue, there would not be a workshop taking place this week. (Credit for this should go also to the many fishermen, scientists, activists and partners who have all testified over the course of the year that they care "Who Fishes Matters!").

This workshop will most likely determine which if any protections will be recommended to be put in place to protect a diverse fleet. If you care about preserving a diverse fleet, we've created a sign on letter and a petition you can sign to tell the NEFMC that you care about preserving a diverse fleet.