An SMS for a Fish

Germany | Schleswig-Holstein | Stein

Uwe Sturm is a member of a citizen’s association concerned about local food culture, and here on the Baltic coast, fishing and the sea are an important part of the culture and lifestyle of the inhabitants. But here, as elsewhere, small-scale fishers struggle to make a living selling the fish that they catch.

The association noticed a gap between the supply of the fishers’ catch and the demand of potential customers, and they came up with a clever way of bridging it. Using text messaging and a web-based software, the website of the project “Fisch vom Kutter” (Fish straight off the boat) shows what each fisher brings in each morning and to which harbor – information sent by the fishers via text message while at sea during the night. This way, the customers, whether restaurants or private buyers, know what fish they can pick up straight off the boat. The freshness of the produce is unbeatable and a great attraction for the customers, while the fishers multiply their earnings by cutting out the middleman.

In the twelve months that the project has been running, 17 fishers have signed up, and some have transferred their entire business to these direct sales – and now tend to sell out their entire catch! The project includes fishers based in several harbors, even as far away as Denmark and Sweden. All of them are working on “one man” fishing boats, alone or with the help of their sons.

The project is supported and run by volunteers from the citizens’ association, while the fishers pay a small fee (15€ per year, to support technical costs), and was set up with the help of an EU rural development grant. At the beginning, the association included a mixed bunch of students, marine biologists, professionals and rural women but did not include a single fisherman. Now, several fishers have joined the group.

Uwe is particularly delighted that the fishers have come together in the community, and in working together on the project, have put aside some of their competitiveness in order to support this project that benefits them all. “They even call each other now to trade some stock if one is selling out faster than the other,” Uwe grins. He supports the technical side of the project – the website – whenever he is not working shifts at his day job at the regional radio station. How hard is it? “Not so much,” he says, “it is sort of running itself. We were surprised ourselves by the success.” The website now registers between 15,000 and 20,000 people actively consulting the offers every month.

The project has gained the interest of the local authorities, because it attracts day tourists to the harbor areas, as well as supporting the livelihoods of the fishers. With less pressure, guaranteed sales and a rising income, the fishers are also now more likely to work with sustainable methods, Uwe confirms.

“The goal of the association is to keep the regional culture alive, but not just as folklore,” Uwe explains. “We want to show that fishing is alive here. Fishermen are not needy and waiting for a handout. They have something to offer – this project simply helps them to spread the word.” The combination of traditional skills and knowledge with new technologies and ideas is also attractive in a different way, suggesting possibilities and opportunities for younger people. Like farming, fishing as profession suffers from a lack of young newcomers, but since the beginning of the project, there has been a renewed interest from local youth to learn the trade.

The work of the association has created synergies between other previously separated – and even opposed – groups, such as the fishers and marine biologists. Now that they have started talking, they have begun to realize that they share the goal of sustaining the fish stocks and the ecosystems of the region, as well as the local culture.

Click here to visit the website of the initiative.

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