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Know Your Fisherman: Local Seafood Summit 2016
Fishermen, fishmongers, non-profits, and those hopeful to start a Community Supported Fishery or values based fishing business came from all over the United States to the Local Seafood Summit in Norfolk, VA. last week. Salmon seiners from Alaska, lobstermen from Maine, even landlocked Great Lake fishers were there. Some dreamers of a better, more sustainable fishing future came from as far away as Baja and Australia and others, from the nearby Carolina Coasts just hung up their gear and headed to Norfolk. We left our Gold Coast sunshine bubble and headed east.
The problems facing the local seafood industry are formidable. 90% of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and, according to a recent New York Times article on illegal fishing in Palau, “The global black market for seafood is worth more than $20 billion, and one in every five fish on American plates is caught illegally.” Add mislabeling of seafood- 1/3 nationwide, and then slavery, which we are learning is not restricted to Asia. Boats with unpaid, mistreated deckhands showing up around the world. So slavery, child labor and lack of environmental standards is setting a baseline price for cheap, imported seafood.
Then there’s the waste in US seafood. According to a study last year by John Hopkins, “Roughly 2.3 billion pounds of seafood squandered each year in distribution and retail, commercial fishing bycatch, and at consumer level.”
We had less than two days to solve these problems and share strategies for creating viable businesses based on sustainable seafood with complete transparency and no waste in the supply chain. Discussions ensued on how to provide a sustainable, living wage not only for fishermen and women, but also everyone who is part of the journey from dock to plate. And we have to find ways to convince our communities that it’s worth paying a little more for seafood that is honest, ethical, and honors the ocean and all creatures in it.
We affirmed our beliefs in our products. Whether scallops, halibut, wild salmon or black cod, the most sustainable is often the highest quality. It’s got fewer middle men, is fresher, and handled with care from boat to consumer. We worked on messaging so that seafood eaters would leave the comfort zone and try new, diverse species like San Francisco Bay herring or Atlantic dogfish. We brainstormed ways to find markets for bycatch and make value added products from trim and under-appreciated species. We workshopped ways to find ways to fund these businesses, grow them, and educate our public.
Overall, it was a short, powerful event that brought together humble leaders of a new revolution in our food system. Go to LocalCatch.org to find your local seafood source. #knowyourfishermen.