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I paused. Staring at me with a look of interest and a level of focus that doesn’t translate well over Zoom were about twenty University of Southern Maine graduate students. I was about a minute into my definition of sustainable seafood recently when the significance of the moment struck me.

“Y’all please forgive me while I take this all in. It’s been a long time and I’m getting kind of emotional,” I said, moments before launching back into the notion of seafood with values.

It had been two years since I’d taught a class in person. Two years since I used a white board or managed a conversation in real time, face to face with students. Two years since I was able to really “read the room,” taking visual facial cues as to whether to explore a newly broached topic or press on with the discussion.

Standing in front of these students aiming to become K-8 teachers, I realized how much I’d missed that in-person dynamic.

The pandemic forced us to bend conventional forms of group communication and classroom discussion. Zoom, Google Meets, and other platforms made us re-think how, when, and where we teach.

But the online environment provided something else: the opportunity to bring more remote voices to students.

In March, I spoke to marine policy graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz online. I was able to share with them short video clips of researchers and a lobsterman providing diverse perspectives on the impact right whale conservation measures have on the future of Maine’s lobster industry. We were able to tie some of the same concerns around Endangered Species Act protections for whales to the crab pot fishery off the West Coast.

In the past two years I’ve invited seafood harvesters across the country to share their perspectives with students in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. An Indigenous commercial and subsistence set netter spoke with 9th graders in Portland, Maine about the type of fishing she does and the importance of preserving cultural access to natural resources. Eighth grade students in Portland heard a fisherman living in Pennsylvania explain some of the signs of climate change he has seen over 20 years while fishing Bristol Bay, Alaska.

I’ve shared stories of other fishermen and chefs in different locations around the country, helping to bring new perspective on the supply chain, and why we should care where our seafood comes from.

Going forward, I plan to bring some of those online connections to fish harvesters, fishmongers, scientists, chefs etc. from afar into in-person classroom discussions. Students benefit from a diversity of opinions and first-person narratives. And we’ll all benefit from direct engagement. Younger students get their hands on a turtle excluder device to learn how some gear modifications reduce bycatch. Or they’ll learn how to tell the difference between male and female green crabs while holding them in their hands.

And we’ll continue to dive into our relationship to seafood as a resource and why we need to understand how our decisions affect that resource. And we’ll keep pushing out the message that knowing where your seafood comes from matters, one conversation at a time.

 

 

Top photo: I asked if I could take a photo to capture the moment. They complied. It was a great visit!