Shortening the Line

Facing an increasingly complex situation when it comes to making sustainable fish choices, people around the world are starting to build alliances with their local fishers to deal with the problem on a community scale. In particular, consumers are stepping up to support the continuation of small-scale sustainable fishing through Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs), guaranteeing local fishers a sale for their seasonal, fresh catch and reconnecting with the ocean.

The approach is a logical flow on from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), in which customers pay farmers up front to receive a share of their production – often-weekly baskets of fruit, vegetables and sometimes meat and dairy – over a season. From its beginnings in Europe and Japan in the 1960s, there are now numerous CSAs across the world, and thousands in North America alone.

The fish model is identical: CSF members pay a fishing community in advance in exchange for a share of seafood over a set period. What is essentially a simple approach is ground-breaking for its ability to supply freshly caught seafood to local markets and provide fishers with a better price for less catch. As fishers are guaranteed the same price for all fish, they no longer need to search out the most sought after species, which are often over-fished, and no longer need to throwback what they don’t need or can’t sell.

In the USA, the Northern Atlantic Marine Alliance, who participated in the Terra Madre 2010, has assisted the creation of 17 CSFs to-date. Among these, the Walking Fish project in North Carolina has been established along a coast where the fishing industry suffered from increased regulation, aging infrastructure, reduced fish stocks, and international competition – which was in turn impacting on the social and cultural character of the region and reducing the communities role as stewards of their coastal waters. By connecting locals with their small-scale fishers, the project gives the industry guaranteed support, renewing their motivation and pride. It is proving very popular, and the 2011 spring season quota is already sold out. The organization also plays an important educational role in the community, providing information on fishing seasons, environmental management and even local fish recipes.

CSFs are also starting to be established in Europe, alongside a range of similar approaches: direct agreements between restaurants and institutions; fishing communities joining with farmers to offer land and sea products in weekly baskets; or groups that consolidate the catch of many small fishers to meet orders taken daily.

This year, the international Slow Fish campaign will focus on small-scale sustainable fishers as well as the chefs and communities that promote them.

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