Slow Fish Looks to the Future

The meetings at the Slow Fish space at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre (Turin, October 23-27, 2014) came to a close on Monday October 27, looking back over the major issues discussed and looking forward to new initiatives for tackling the pressing problems facing small-scale fishers and marine environments around the world.


The fishers, academics, activists and youth who participated in the five days of meetings reflected on the positive community spirit that united them. “It’s tough times at home for a lot of us, but it’s kind of like therapy coming here,” said Dave Adler, the manager of Atlantic Canada’s first community-supported fishery. “We’re all speaking the same language.”


Enda Conneely, a fisherman and restaurant owner from Ireland currently fighting against a massive salmon-farm project off the island of Inis Oírr, urged the group to build on the experiences shared over the past few days: “Each of us has to go back and build this network,” he said. “We need to act as an organization. As someone once said, it’s not the actions of our enemies that confound us, it’s the inaction of our friends. We are under attack and we have to fight back.”


In the morning, the group had divided into small groups to discuss how to fight back—against governments trying to privatize shared marine resources, against the displacement of coastal fishing communities for aquaculture or tourism projects, against the imposition of a dominant narrative that simplistically blames fishers for the ocean’s woes—with a focus on four key topics.


Michèle Mesmain, the Slow Fish network coordinator, summed up the conclusions of the group discussing the Ark of Taste and Presidia. These Slow Food projects can help to protect and promote small-scale fishers, traditional fishing techniques, sustainable fishing systems and endangered fish and seafood products around the world. She cited the new Presidium for the prud’homies of the Mediterranean, collective management systems run by fishermen. “We should encourage Presidia that can really help the preservation of knowledge,” she said. Over the next few months, the group will come up with guidelines for getting more fish products in the Ark of Taste, and product descriptions will highlight the role of fishers in conserving species.


The FAO has recently approved a set of guidelines for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries, and Carlos Fuentevilla of the UN’s food and agriculture organization led the discussion about how these guidelines can be implemented. “We need to simplify them and make them approachable, in scale and language,” he said. “We need to encourage ownership of the guidelines by fishing communities, targeting leaders, but also vulnerable and marginalized groups. We need to make sure they realize the document is useful in holding governments to account.” Presenting case studies and stories will be essential helping groups identify with the guidelines, communicating about community-supported fisheries or women-run cooperatives as examples that incarnate their principles.  


“How do we counter the forces of the dark side?” That was the question asked by the group led by Jerry Percy, the executive director of LIFE (Low Impact Fishers of Europe), which discussed how to face the global problem of ocean grabbing. The answer, he said, was organization, information, education and mobilization. “We need to build resilience globally and provide mutual support,” he said, and suggested producing a series of short videos presenting the subject and offering snapshots of best practices. “We need more knowledge of the detrimental impacts of privatization, ocean grabbing and resource grabbing,” he said. “We need more knowledge of positive examples of what people are doing. Knowledge is power.” Seth Macinko, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, said that “a worldwide showcase of examples of successful management of the commons” was essential to counter the arguments that private ownership is the best solution to managing natural resources.


John Volpe, a researcher at the University of Victoria, Canada, outlined the conclusions of the group which had been discussing aquaculture. Major fish-farming projects often represent a threat to small-scale fishers, taking away their coastal land, polluting the water or leading to genetic interbreeding with wild species. “We need to develop a toolkit for those engaging with industry or governments so they know how to ask the right questions, how to get to the heart of the issues that might arise from a particular initiative.” For example, he said that a project might be certified organic, but that this does not necessarily guarantee sustainability. “Certification bodies will certify a farm as organic without taking into account exposure to pesticides, escapes, disease and waste processing,” he said. He said “following the money” was also important. The ecological costs of a farm might be felt locally, but the benefits manifest themselves far away, out of the country. And, he said, “we need to challenge large scale producers when they claim to be ‘feeding the world.’ One of the common arguments in support of an initiative is that it means a net production of food. This is often not the case.” He recommended compiling a database of scientific information and expertise, and an online map that could be used for communities to mobilize the Slow Fish network when facing a challenge.” Lastly, he said, “we need a compendium of demonstrated alternatives to industrial scale aquaculture that could be used to challenge initiatives.”


Keep checking the Slow Fish website for updates on the network’s progress, as it builds on the energy and community feeling generated by the five days of meetings at the Salone del Gusto. 

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