A Case Study of Conflict in the Wadden Sea

A case study of the unique natural marine reserve – the Wadden Sea – will be presented by Lucy Gilliam & Magnus Johnson, of the Slow Fish North Sea network, at the UNESCO conference in Bergen, taking place from 24 – 26 March 2014.

The Wadden Sea is an extraordinary intertidal ecosystem that stretches along the coast from the Netherlands to southern Denmark. Covering over 10,000 square kilometers, it is made up of a dense network of channels, sandy strips of land, muddy flats and salt marsh, bordered by islets that emerge from the North Sea waters. In 2009, the Dutch and German regions of the Wadden Sea were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in part due to their importance as an ecosystem for migrating birds.

The Wadden Sea traditional Fishers

The Dutch part covers about 50% of the whole Wadden Sea. Here, a group of 35 fishers still use fixed fishing gear (traps, longlines, etc.), eliminating the need for dragging from boats. The effectiveness of these traditional methods varies depending on the anchoring points (just a few meters can make all the difference between success and failure) and their use requires a profound understanding of the environment and seabed. The Wadden Sea fishers catch grey mullet, sea bass, smelt, flounder, crabs, oysters and more with little bycatch or environmental harm.

However, as a result of measures that are meant to protect birds and seals from disturbance by people, (harm which is mostly caused by recreational visitors), the fishers are losing their traditional fishing grounds. In a natural environment where birds and seals coexisted with hundreds of fishers for centuries, modern exclusionary ideas of nature conservation place them in opposition to the few traditional fishermen that are left. They are in effect becoming conservation refugees.

Fishers now fear that the ascension of the Wadden Sea status as a UNESCO heritage site, may be used by NGOs to press the Dutch Government to ban static fishing gear even further, potentially turning the fishers into an endangered species.

Slow Food, Slow Fish and the ‘Presidium’ of the Wadden Sea

Slow Food Presidia are local projects promoted and coordinated by The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.  They work to protect small-scale producers and to safeguard quality artisan products.

The Presidia of the Wadden Sea supports traditional fishers and their products, focusing on the least-exploited species and on their fixed fishing arts, which are currently disapearing in spite of being very sustainable. In particular, the Presidia focuses on marketing, consumer education and training activities for young people. 

The Slow Fish network is a sub community within Slow Food, specifically working on issues related to fisheries, marine ecosystems and maritime communities.

The fishers of the Presidia participate in This Fish: a traceability project supported by the Canadian NGO Ecotrust that was launched at Slow Fish 2011. In this project, fish are individually labelled with a unique code that allows consumers to trace when, where and by whom their fish were caught. The website provides background information on the fishers, fishing methods and environment.

In addition the ‘Presidia’ fishers are engaged in a range of activities with cultural relevance that include: direct sales projects in cooperation with various restaurants and a producers’ market in Amsterdam; labelling the fish as certified regional products; and a small cafeteria where Wadden Sea fish is sold alongside other top quality products from the UNESCO national park (meat, cheeses etc).

The values of Slow Fish

Slow Fish recognises traditional small-scale fisheries as an integral part of community life, with skills, knowledge and values that have their roots in the natural environment and the coastal community. Fisheries form a part of the heritage and are carrier of tradition.

The Slow Fish network welcomes the UNESCO initiative to critically discuss how they can view all three conventions (1972, 2003, 2005) and discuss how they can be useful to protect and promote a whole range of cultural expressions, exploring where the synergies might lie; hopefully recognising small-scale fishers as part of the intangible cultural heritage of the ecosystem.


Find out more about the Slow Fish campaign here: old.slowfood.com/slowfish


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