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Slow Fish 2021: Relationship Matters

By April 14, 2021January 23rd, 2023No Comments
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Slow Fish is about relationships. Our relationships with seafood, those who harvest and sell that seafood, our broader communities, our oceans and waterways, and with each other.

Since the pandemic shut down our planned Slow Fish 2020 in-person event last March, we’ve been reimagining how we re-establish, strengthen, and explore these connections. Planning a virtual event was new for all of us. We learned you can’t apply the same thought process to a remote event.

The theme of relationships was prominent throughout Slow Fish 2021, held online from March 18-20 and March 25-27.

We heard it from Jim Embry, who spoke about the importance of striving for equity, inclusion, and justice even as racism persists in our water- and land-based food pathways. Keynote speaker Buck Jones of the Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Commission reemphasized the importance of preserving both indigenous and non-indigenous connections to food sources.

Know your fishermen and women!

The theme of relationships cropped up again in the Seascape World Café where attendees joined rotating conversations about growing the network, advocacy and action, and young fish harvesters.

One central theme from the Seafood Supply Chain Deep Dive is that direct connections between fish harvesters and customers, retailers, and other harvesters are increasingly essential to growth and survival. Covid’s devastating impact on industrial supply chains continues to wreak havoc. In the end, the definition of “local” is becoming less about geography and more about relationships.

We heard this from several storytellers. Kayla Cox at New England Fishmongers based in NH described customer enthusiasm for the amazing shrimp from Anna Marie Shrimp in LA and wild salmon from Yakobe Fisheries in AK. Lance Nacio explained how these types of business networks have helped both Anna Marie Shrimp and its customers who buy all of the scallops he can get from New England Fishmongers.

These are the kinds of relationships that help fishermen and women troubleshoot logistical challenges like collective marketing, business questions, or mentorship. These are the connections that grow the network of folks that share Slow Fish values of good, clean, fair seafood.

Natural connections

Relationships to the land, the water, the fish, the birds, animals and Nature in general is at the center of Indigenous culture, and it was the foundation for many powerfully spiritual stories in the Indigenous Access to Food Sources Deep Dive. We heard perspectives from Indigenous communities from Martha’s Vineyard, MA. all the way to AK., including stories from smaller and bigger river systems in northern CA. and OR.

We heard resilience in the stories of opposing a massive proposed mine in the Bristol Bay, AK watershed, restoration of Indigenous access to wild salmon runs on the Columbia River; preservation of cultural knowledge around seasonal, balanced ocean and land harvests in northern California, and the continued efforts from all geographies to protect treaty rights around access to natural resources. The upshot? If we take care of our natural resources, they will take care of us. Protecting Indigenous access to cultural food sources is an important part of that equation.

This connection to natural resources and marine habitats played a crucial role in the Aquaculture Deep Dive, where we learned about small-scale, ecosystem-balanced operations like an oyster farm near Miami, seaweed farming in Maine, and wild seaweed harvest in British Columbia. We also heard about collective efforts to oppose industrial-scale finfish and shrimp farming and other operations, which upset marine ecological balance and often socio-economically displace coastal communities that depend on local fisheries for their lives.

The Rivers Connect the World discussion featured compelling stories of habitat restoration and preservation from the Mississippi, Danube, Snake, and Copper rivers as well as the rivers of Cork, Ireland. These efforts continue to succeed because of the collaboration within and among communities along those rivers, regardless of political borders.

Shared Resources

The Blue Commons Deep Dive explored how the industrial-scale development of the Blue Economy typically saps the lifeblood from coastal communities and their local economies, and cripples the independent fish harvesters living in those communities. Blue Economy plays such as massive fish farms, huge offshore wind farms, or large, investment-backed no-fish zones essentially privatize large sections of the ocean and have the most devastating impacts on independent, artisanal, and subsistence fishermen.

The Blue Commons is a counter-narrative to the Blue Economy, in which communities gather around a shared set of values to treat marine and estuarine water bodies as shared resources. We again heard stories of resilience, such as how the Okanagan Nation’s Alliance worked to restore wild sockeye salmon runs on the Snake River in their home waters in British Columbia. We learned about a Rhode Island community working to re-establish a vibrant, locally managed quahog fishery and provide more access to more fishermen despite consolidation by market forces.

We also learned how a fishing community in Sitka, AK worked to ban trawl nets in sensitive fishing areas to minimize halibut bycatch; develop a collaborative science approach to monitor rockfish biomass to ensure healthy stocks; and create an innovative program to train young fish harvesters. These types of commoning fortify the relationships between communities and their surrounding natural resources.

All of these discussions prompted thoughtful idea exchanges and questions in very active chat sessions, with 2,424 messages spread out over both weekends. This does not include the very vibrant feedback during the live panel discussions following the screenings of “Last Man Fishing” and “The Wild” films during the first weekend.

On the final day of the event, Slow Fish North America Oversight Team members Tasha Sutcliffe and Kevin Scribner provided a thorough synthesis of common threads arising from these discussions. Relationships, food sovereignty, equity and social justice, habitat protections, and intergenerational knowledge transfer or mentorship were some of the most common threads woven into the fabric of the event and of Slow Fish values. To see the full synopsis from Kevin and Tasha, follow this link.

Follow this link in case you’d like to see recordings of the different discussions from Slow Fish 2021. Scroll down the library until you see “Aquaculture.” The eight videos following Aquaculture were all part of the event.

A team of between 30 or so people worked tirelessly for several weeks to coordinate what turned out to be a stellar event. We met or exceeded our goals of strengthening and growing the community; empowering folks in the network to share their stories and become our values standard-bearers; spark meaningful conversations around several crucial topics to the Slow Fish network; and celebrate the community and collective energy of our shared values.

I am truly thankful to everyone who participated. Hopefully, the next event is in person!


Top photo: Screenshot from the final day of Slow Fish 2021. Credit: Sister Denisa Livingston of Slow Food Turtle Island