Wednesday, March 23, 2016

“Sole” Music: Fisherman and Musician Russell Kingman Sings Tales at Slow Fish 2016

This is one in a series of recollections or snapshots of Slow Fish 2016. Slow Food Austin Board Member Lauren Nelson interviewed fisherman and musician Russell Kingman about life on the water, and the music that was born of those experiences.

Butterfish. It's what's for dinner, says Russell Kingman.
Along the Massachusetts coast of Cape Cod, Russell Kingman and his partner Shannon Eldredge practice the ancient, sustainable art of weir fishing. Building a weir fishery is labor intensive and demands that all of the members of the fishery – Kingman, Eldredge and her father, Ernie – be in the water almost every day.

“It’s a really great life,” Kingman said. “It’s a hard life. We build stationary traps offshore with hickory trees that support the nets. The hickory trees weigh around 200 pounds apiece, and we have put in as many as 320 trees for three traps. Lots of miles of nets go down. It sometimes feels like we’re building the railroads with just three people.”

The hands-on approach of weir fishing allows Kingman to virtually eliminate bycatch.
“When we collect fish, we pinch off the nets and scoop them; it’s like a fishbowl,” he said. “It’s a super sustainable fishery and is very friendly to all the species. If they’re babies, they go back in the water. If they are a species we can’t sell, they go back in the water.”

All in the family. Russell and Shannon Eldredge with fresh caught mackerel.
That connection to the waters they fish is at the heart of the Slow Fish movement: taking care of the resource so it takes care of you and your community. This was the message Kingman and Eldredge delivered with their presentation at Slow Fish 2016. Accompanied by several slides depicting the hard work and bounty of weir fishing, they spoke of honoring a fishing tradition long forgotten in many communities around the country.

Sharing that narrative is one way to keep the tradition alive, and perhaps spark interest elsewhere. Anytime someone approaches Kingman with questions about weir fishing or his nets, he takes them out on his boat for a hands-on lesson. “A lot of people are curious,” he said. “We take anyone who asks us out, unless the weather conditions are dangerous.”

Kingman described his connection to the community as one of partnership and education. “We get all these species in our traps, and we’ve tried them all. We’ve gotten sea robins which taste just like bass,” he said. “Restaurants and customers like our product because it’s from a clean fishery with no bycatch. It’s literally from the ocean to the dock to the table. We give two restaurants in town free fish to see if they’ll try new fish, and we’ll sell them that species for a dollar per pound. We’re just people working together, trying to connect to each other in this community so we can have more access to everyone’s plate and educate the public.”

Pogies in the weir.

Kingman and Eldredge also deliver those messages via their band SeaFire Kids, which gets its name from Russell’s past company, Sea Fire Construction, named for ocean phosphorescence. “We started the band and didn’t know where it would go,” Russell said. “It’s become a fun way to express a lot of things that go on in the fisheries, what life looks like and feels like for fishermen. Sometimes we get a little political about stuff we don’t agree with that goes on in fisheries.”

They laid down the groove at the funky Southern Food and Beverage Museum in Mid City at Slow Fish 2016.

“As a group of people – Slow Fish, Slow Food, the band and my friends – we’re all very optimistic about creating a path to the future of sustainable food and healthy food,” he said. “There’s a lot of doom in the world surrounding the state of our oceans. We’re working hard to create great solutions. Slow Fish has been very effective at getting the message out. We’re helping put forward an entire food movement that really needs to happen in this world.”

Check out SeaFire Kids’ music.

SeaFire Kids performing at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFab)
Left to Right: Shannon Eldredge, Russell Kingman, Danielle Tolley, and Brett Tolley

Also, check out Kingman and Eldredge's presentation at Slow Fish 2016 New Orleans.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Slow Fish Rises to the Challenge

Slow Fish Rises to the Challenge

The sun shines on Day 4 of Slow Fish New Orleans at Docville Farm in Violet, La, where attendees were treated to tasty seafood (at left) and a boucherie with slow cooked, fire pit pork and lamb (at right) from the local Slow Meat chapter.

By Colles Stowell, founder of One Fish Foundation

This is one in a series of recollections from some of the people who attended Slow Fish 2016.

It’s a surreal, if a bit funny experience to eat oysters surrounded by larger-than-life representations of male and female anatomy. Kind of a Harold-Robbins-meets-Jules-Verne aura.

How a bunch of fishermen, chefs, scientists and seafood activists from around the world ended up in a dilapidated warehouse surrounded by lewdly, yet very craftily decorated Mardi Gras floats for the Krewe du Vieux (pronounced “croo du voo” and which pulls no punches lambasting anything/anyone political or sexual) is a study in adaptation.

The Krewe du Vieux warehouse was an eye-opening experience for many Slow Fish 2016 attendees in New Orleans. Courtesy: Sarah Shoffler.

We had gathered for the Slow Fish 2016 event in New Orleans to discuss important fisheries issues, make connections and celebrate locally caught, fresh and delicious seafood. Naturally, intense Louisiana spring weather turned carefully planned scheduling on its head with impending violent thunderstorms and potential flooding. Not one hour into the 150-person event at the Old US Mint, the state called for emergency evacuations and closed our base of operations for the next three days.

So instead of celebrating the gathering on the grounds of a historic building, we found ourselves feasting on pompano and sea bass in the shadows of papier-mâché sex. Ironically, that kind of mandatory last-minute logistical two-step closely parallels the rapid fire challenges many family fishermen face, constantly having to adapt to ever-shifting polices, seafood markets, climate, etc. beyond their control. We banned together at Slow Fish to pull it off, perhaps serving as proof that collaboration and flexibility are critical to addressing broader policy and market challenges ahead. That was the first of several truly unique experiences at Slow Fish 2016.

The next was the following day at the quirky Broad Theater in Mid City, a neighborhood at the heart of New Orleans. There, fishermen ranging from Alaska to California, and from Louisiana to Maine shared stories about their watersheds, community-based fisheries traditions and the management policies changing the landscape of how, when and where they can fish.

Kevin Scribner explains Salmon Safe's success ensuring owners of 95,000 acres of agricultural and urban land in three states and B.C. have minimized or eliminated harmful nutrient and pollutant discharge into precious spawning streams.

They discussed challenges such as privatization and resource allocation, biodiversity, policy impacts and ways to protect watersheds and fishing community heritage. Former Alaskan salmon fishermen and current Slow Fish board member Kevin Scribner described how the Salmon Safe program has worked with farmers, businesses and urban planners to reduce downstream impacts on native salmon habitat. This means the owners or tenants of more than 95,000 acres of agricultural and urban land (including the Nike campus, and several major farms) in three states and British Columbia have committed to reducing or eliminating harmful nutrient and pollutant discharge into precious streams.

Kindra Arnesen spoke passionately about the challenges facing fishing families on the Mississippi River delta. She described her Herculean efforts to unite struggling fishermen after the BP oil disaster, first to get jobs helping with cleanup, then to challenge BP, the EPA, NOAA and other local, state and federal agencies on their methods of cleanup, cover-up and compensation. It was yet another story of adaptation and survival. 

Recirculating Farms Coalition operations in a Central City neighborhood. Some happy catfish in the tank, and some happy lettuce rooted in lava rocks and the filtered water from the tank.

Other presenters discussed creating direct channels between fishermen, retailers and chefs to bring fresh seafood inland from the coast. Marianne Cufone, executive director of Recirculating Farms Coalition, showed the audience how a motivated team was able to start a clean, productive aquaponics operation right in a Central City neighborhood. Restaurants have already expressed interest in the fresh lettuce and catfish growing in recirculated water.

Set to the backdrop of compelling images, each story brought to life some of the common struggles many fishermen and coastal communities face, and some of the successful solutions to those challenges. 
Alligator shrimp and grits. Yeah, that's right.

The adaptation of the Slow Fish 2016 continued Saturday at the Dryades Market, whose previous life had been a public school in Central City, another neighborhood steeped in diversity. Groups of concerned fishermen spoke about adequately addressing quotas and fairness issues and ways to promote local fisheries management. One common theme that emerged, perhaps prophetically, was the issue of adaptation.
Some call crawfish "mudbugs." Others in the know call them delicious! 

Louisiana fishermen are constantly forced to adapt to changing ecosystem habitats, based on the chilling statistic that the coastline loses a football field of marsh every 45 minutes. Okanagan tribes have to adapt to the ebb and flow of wild sockeye migrating several hundred miles into incredibly diverse watersheds straddling the border between British Columbia and Washington state. Maine fishermen have to navigate the fluctuations in their fisheries due to the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine and the seemingly arbitrary nature of regional management.
Two of around 300 dozen oysters brought to the event.

Perhaps it was divinely appropriate that Mother Nature decided to throw a curveball and forced organizers to scramble. Because it is that instinct to go into auto pilot in the face of adversity and figure out a solution that determines success. For a Pacific salmon, that instinct to swim several hundred miles to its natal waters to spawn, die and give sustenance to its young is pure survival. For fishermen, it’s the ability to chase different available species when Nature or policy forces their hands. It’s in banding together to work toward a common cause to bring communities closer to their seafood.

Through all of the rain and high wind and last-minute venue changes, the shuttling of food from here to there…and back again, the audio visual challenges, the taxis, carpools and long walks through a noisy French Quarter, Slow Fish 2016 attendees made connections. They found common ground. They discussed ways to organize, set goals and pursue them. They made friends.
I learned how to trim the pork loin correctly.

Perhaps the skies dawned on a warm, bluebird day on the last day of the gathering at Docville Farm in Violet, La., a boucherie and seafood feast, as a reckoning of sorts. Adapt. Persevere. Hope. Something good will come out of it.

The memory of the food, the conversation, the energy and camaraderie will stay with all of us for a long time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Top 5 Reasons why the Slow Fish 2016 Gathering will be Off the Hook

written by the Slow Fish 2016 planning team

Starting Thursday March 10 in New Orleans, we're kicking off the first international Slow Fish gathering in North America. Together with fishermen, chefs, youth leaders, community based organizations, and more we'll be sharing stories, celebrating locally caught seafood, rocking to good music, and helping shape the Slow Fish campaign here in the States and beyond.

If you can't be with us in New Orleans you can follow along on social media. We'll be using the hashtag #slowfish and posting regularly to our community Facebook Page.


1. The Values Run Deep

Campaigns and movements are only as strong as the values they stand for. Slow Fish's values are divided into three fundamental and interdependent parts, summed up as good, clean, and fair, for ALL. 

GOOD: fresh, delicious and seasonal, satisfying the senses and connected to our culture and local identity.

CLEAN: produced using methods that respect the environment and human health. 

FAIR: accessible prices for consumers, but also fair earnings that can guarantee decent working and living conditions for small-scale producers and workers. 

These values correspond to a global vision of food production, taking into consideration the environment's ability to renew itself and the need for people to live together in harmony. 

2. Talking about a Revol-Ocean 

Slow Fish is diving deep on the issues that confront the industrial seafood system. At this week's gathering we'll hear stories that challenge the dominant narrative around industrial aquaculture, genetically engineered seafood, privatization of the Ocean commons, and more. 

To get a sneak peak from some of the folks who'll be sharing stories at Slow Fish, check out National and Local Groups Oppose Industrial Aquaculture by Marianne Cufone, Tampering with our Future by Anne Mosness, and Fish and Ocean Grabbing: A Case for Commercial Fisheries by Seth Macinko and Brett Tolley.

3. Justice with Joy, Its a Shell-ebration

In the words of Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, "If you want to change the world, don't do it with sadness do it with joy." At Slow Fish we'll be celebrating the unique flavors and recipes from values based chefs like: 

  • Chef Alex Harrell and Angeline hosting Chef Drew Deckman of Deckman's en el Mogor in Baja, Mexico
  • Chef Dickie Brennan and the Bourbon House hosting Chef Digby Stridiron of Baltar in St. Croix, Virgin Islands
  • Chef Tenney Flynn and GW Fins hosting Chef Nate Hereford of Niche in St. Louis
  • Chef Matthew Gulotta and MoPho hosting Chef Kurt D'Aurizio of the I. M. Sulzbacher Center in Jacksonville, Florida
  • Chef Melissa Martin and the Mosquito Supper Club hosting Chef Jessica Tantalo of Orlando's East End Market.

We'll also be rocking to the soul thumping, sea stomping, bayou blastin' music from bands like

And then we'll wrap it all up with a sunrise to sunset traditional Seafood Boil and Cajun Boucherie where Slow Fish “meats” Slow Meat.

4. We Cast a Wide Net

The seafood system is big and touches people all along the value chain from fishermen, to fish workers, to processors, distributers, retail, restaurants, institutions, and anyone who eats seafood. It touches coastal communities, inland and river-based communities, and everyone who shares the ocean commons. It also touches everyone who cares about the lifeline of our planet. The earth is after all, over 70% water. 

That's why at Slow Fish we'll have youth leaders and fishermen from Alaska, Canada, New England, and beyond. Plus we'll hear stories from fishing community members, values-based seafood businesses, and leaders from: the Okanagan Nation, Oregon, California, New Orleans, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Hawaii, and many more. 

5. We Have Fish Puns for Days

Holy mackerel and oh my cod my friends, you've been herring about the revol-ocean and it ain't no fluke. Many working waterfronts are at the end of their line and we need all hands on deck. This is no time to flounder around or mullet over. 

There is a rising tide and this is no time to scale back, any fin is possible if we're all aboard and working together. No squidding around, the industrial food system is a load of pollocks. We're all in the same boat and rowing in the same direction. Ain't no if's, and's, or halibutt's about it. Get yer sea legs ready, we're diving deep.

Editors note: If others have better fish puns, let minnow. Don't leave it to salmon else.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Slow Fish goes to college!

by Spencer Montgomery
This is one in a series of stories from some of the people attending Slow Fish 2016.

There's less than a week to go until we're all together in New Orleans for Slow Fish 2016: Gateway to the Americas! I'll be road trippin' it down in a 12-passenger van, with seats still available, in case there are any last-minute takers!

If you can't make it to Slow Fish this year, then please consider making a last-minute donation to our crowd-sourcing campaign to help cover the registration cost of a fisherman to attend.
Slow Fish has become a central theme of my life. So much so that I am now working as a part-time, commercial hand gear fisherman on the F/V Finlander out of Eliot, ME.

For me, it began a couple years ago, when I distributed surveys to 44 members of our local campus Slow Food chapter at the University of New Hampshire. The survey's purpose was to help guide our efforts as a group, since we had grown so quickly. Surprisingly, more than half of the students expressed a strong interest in learning more about 'seafood sustainability'.

I realized that I knew nothing of the subject.

Together with my peers, I began exploring what it meant to be a sustainable eater in the realm of seafood. I reached out to gain perspective from local fishermen, chefs, professors and community organizations. Eventually, I discovered the Slow Fish campaign and was hooked!

Our group decided to host a Slow Fish Workshop and a Seafood Throwdown to begin exploring the seasonality and biodiversity of fish as food. 

Working with local fishermen, we were able to procure seven different species of fish for the workshop. These included beautiful, whole specimens of monkfish, white hake, Acadian redfish, winter flounder, whiting, Atlantic pollock, and dogfish.

Twenty eager students showed up, ready to learn how to fillet and cook with each of the species. We crafted everything from monkfish stew to dogfish ceviche. We even used leftover fish heads and bones to make culinary stocks. Our workshop was even featured on tv! Click here to watch.

Moving Markets

Given its hands on approach, our Slow Fish Workshop served as a gateway for us to learn more about 'sustainable seafood'. We were hungry for more. Within one semester, our Slow Food group collaborated with the University to get more than 2,000 pounds of local seafood into our dining halls! Read about the case study here.

The Slow Fish Workshop was a huge success at UNH and the concept has since spread to four other U.S. States, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and even Vermont! Each workshop's story is wholly unique, given its local watershed and the fishing community it serves to embrace.

So, feast your eyes my friends! Slow Fish is going to college!


Led by Margaret Wittier-Ferguson, students at Northeastern University partnered with a local community supported fishery (CSF), Cape Ann Fresh Catch, to source the freshest Atlantic pollock for their Slow Fish Workshop! Over 15 students had their first experience butchering a whole fish.

Whole fish food culture

Whole animal utilization is a core concept of Slow Fish. As consumers, our ability to accept whole fish can greatly enhance the success of CSFs and other forms of direct marketing. Plus, there's great value in cooking with the whole animal! (i.e. you get fresh fish collars, and leftover fish heads & bones can make delicious fish stocks for risotto, bouillabaisse, ètouffèe, gumbo, grits & more!)


At the University of Rhode Island (URI), student leaders, Kayleigh Hill and Emily Desrochers, hosted a Slow Fish workshop to increase their community's appetite for locally-abundant, underutilized and invasive species of seafood.

Students partnered with Sarah Schumann, a Rhode Island commercial shellfish harvester and president of Eating with the Ecosystem, to source periwinkles (Littorina littorea) and invasive green crabs (Carcinus maenas) for the workshop. Green crabs are quickly destroying native shellfish beds from Cape Ann to Nova Scotia. One green crab can devour 40 small clams and 30 oysters, in a single day! Green crabs are also notorious for mowing down vital eelgrass beds, which provide crucial habitat for species like the Nantucket bay scallop.

The solution? If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em!

Eating with the Ecosystem

Biodiversity is an essential ingredient for eating with the ecosystem, which requires a balanced selection of seafood from all trophic levels.

Silver hake (Merluccius bilinearis) and Atlantic butterfish (Peprilus triacanthus) were among other species at the URI workshop. Students filleted the hake and used it to make ceviche with rhubarb, lemon & pink peppercorn. You can read more here.

"It's my hope that this workshop will spark interest in getting RI-cuaght seafood into our dining halls at URI" says Kayleigh Hill.

Last Man Fishing

Students at URI were also joined by J.D. Schuyler, director of the upcoming documentary Last Man Fishing. J.D. and film producer, Kelley Jordan will both be attending Slow Fish in New Orleans. For a glimpse of their work, check out this short video they made about the Slow Fish Workshop at URI.


Student leader, Marlene Nuart, organized a Slow Fish workshop at the College of the Atlantic.

At the workshop, students heard real-time stories of indigenous food sovereignty struggles from Vera Francis of the Passamaquoddy tribe. Here's an article that highlights the importance of the indigenous oversight of marine resources in Maine.

Students collaborated with Paul Molyneaux, journalist and fisherman, to procure species native to Down East Maine. The menu included fresh, whole smelts and "bloaters". "Bloaters", traditional to the area, refer to whole, cold-smoked alewives. The preparation involves alewives that have been salted and lightly-smoked with the guts still intact to yield a unique, gamey flavor.

Once the meal was composed, everyone gathered around a big dinner table that directly overlooked the Atlantic Ocean.


What does a vibrant seafood culture look like for land-locked territories?

Most recently, the Slow Fish campaign docked at the University of Vermont. At the helm, student leaders, Olivia Percoco and Katharine Nash, sourced invasive marine species while also working to shift the perception & culture around eating fresh-water species from Lake Champlain.

Incredibly, UVM students were able to procure 10 different species from the Gulf of Maine and Lake Champlain!

Local Burlington chef, Doug Paine, has been using his menu to transform the lingering stigma around eating fish from Lake Champlain. For the Slow Fish Workshop, he donated several fresh-water species, including: rock bass, yellow perch, pumpkinseed, and blue gills.

Students also sourced native & invasive crabs from Wells Harbor, Maine, including: Jonah crabs, rock crabs, and invasive European green crabs. The crabs were submerged in boiling water and melded with aromatics to produce a flavorful crab stock - which became a central component of the students' crab risotto.

Offshore offerings included Atlantic pollock and mackerel, which students procured directly from Eliot, Maine fisherman, Tim Rider of the F/V Finlander.

Know Your Fisherman

Nationwide, farmers' markets serve as platforms for local producers. We can go and shake the hand of the person who grew our tomatoes. We can ask a farmer where and how they produced our honey. Farmers have become local celebrities (and for very good reason!)

But, for fishermen, similar infrastructure fails to exist.

The Slow Fish campaign seeks to build a similar culture of support for fishermen. By procuring fish directly from community-based fishermen, we can better discern our role as co-producers of the seafood we eat.

See you in New Orleans!

I am excited to share more Slow Fish stories with you in New Orleans! Watershed storytelling will be a central theme of Slow Fish 2016: Gateway to the Americas, given its potential for galvanizing relationships and honing our narrative. 

JOIN our Facebook Event Page.
SUPPORT our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

HOST a Fisher-Chef Alliance dinner.

Monday, February 29, 2016

For Fishing Families, Adapting is the Name of the Game

by Kerry Marhefka 
This is one in a series of stories from some of the people attending Slow Fish 2016.

My name is Kerry Marhefka. Along with my husband Mark we own Abundant Seafood in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina just a few miles north of Charleston.

Mark is a second generation commercial fisherman who has fished in the South Atlantic snapper & grouper fishery since 1979. For many years we operated our business in the traditional manner of fishing for days at a time, loading up as much catch as possible, coming in and selling the whole load to one fish house, just to turn back around and do it all again.

In the early 2000s my husband and I were both very involved with fisheries management. He was an Advisory Panel member for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and I was one of their fishery biologists. Because we were paying attention we knew what was coming and that there was going to be less fish to catch due to management. 

We also knew we couldn't afford to make less money (to make things even more fun we decided that my working at the Council wasn't working for our growing family nor the peace in our household so I left that nice secure, benefit-having government job). 

Our solution was to leave the fish house, cut out the middle man and sell our catch directly to local chefs in Charleston. I am happy to say that not only was that successful but we also were able to start a community supported fishery in 2010, getting fresh local fish into the hands of more than 300 Charleston area families twice a month.

As successful as we have been we still feel a lot of uncertainty for the future of our livelihood and those fishermen and women who may come after us. Much like everywhere else along the coast property prices and development along the water front has skyrocketed. Currently the five or so boats that operate out of the same dock we use are all renting slips and working dock space on a month to month basis with no lease. The owner is a real estate developer.

The few commercial fishermen left worry about the day they will lose their dock space which is ironic considering that Charleston's food scene is at such a high point and those talented chefs are using more fresh local seafood than I can ever remember.

Of course we still worry about the health of the stocks we fish and how management may affect our business (locally we are concerned about the push for the Catch Share management approach) but for some reason we feel like if we stay involved in the fishery management process that we can adapt to any changes in regulations. 

When we attend Slow Fish in March we look forward to meeting other like-minded people and hopefully talking to people who have been faced with similar issues and who might offer solutions that have worked. We also hope we can be helpful to others by sharing our experience of direct marketing to chefs and running a community supported fishery. 

REGISTER for Slow Fish 2016.
JOIN our Facebook Event Page.
SUPPORT our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

HOST a Fisher-Chef Alliance dinner.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Telltale Cod

Chef Evan Mallett showing Slow Fish UNH students how to prepare locally abundant dogfish.

By Chef Evan Mallett 
This is one in a series of stories from some of the people attending (or wishing they could attend!) Slow Fish 2016.

 In 2012, I wrote a blog entitled “Grandpa, What’s a Cod?” The motive for writing that blog was a dramatic realization that my children’s children might someday ask me such a question. Perhaps, I projected, they will see an old menu or read an article, or visit the Cape that bears the name of a mystery fish.

Entire books have been written about cod—citing the fish’s dominion over our national heritage, how it inspired colonization and later, an inestimably rich global seafood trade. As our New World and its human population have expanded from the shores where codfishing boats first landed, cod has been there every step of the way. Until now.

Since I wrote the blog, assessments of the cod population in the Gulf of Maine (my backyard) have only brought more bad news. I am a chef, and I have grown up alongside the bounty of North Atlantic fisheries. In recent years, I have watched those fisheries, and the small family-owned boats that ply our local waters, dwindle to the point of near-extinction. It is clear that a revolutionary shift in mindset is the only solution to a problem we have created over decades of fishing a species to the brink.

Some experts point to changing water temperatures, locally and globally, that might explain a shift in breeding grounds for Atlantic cod and other coldwater species. And, whether as a result of this shift or a three-decade moratorium on cod fishing, there is evidence that Newfoundland—where annual cod harvests once numbered over a million metric tons—might be experiencing a cod comeback of sorts.

It’s not that I personally hold cod up as the all-seeing banner of virtue and supremacy that our founding fathers did when they marched a “sacred cod” wooden replica to the Massachusetts State House, where it still hangs today. The truth is, I definitely revere cod’s flavor, texture and utility. However, a simple reality check tells us that we have no choice but to consider other species as alternatives to our New England culture’s longtime staple fish. I am one of those few chefs who sells Pollock, Acadian redfish, even dogfish, on my menu, because I believe with all of my heart that we have no choice but to ignite a new awareness now, before the fish we grew up eating are gone.

When I attended Slow Food’s Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto in 2010, I heard a fisherman from Oceania talk about how his family could afford frozen farmed salmon from Northern Europe, purchased in his local supermarket, but could not afford to eat his own fresh, local catch, upon which his livelihood depended. That fisherman’s story started my trip down the undercurrent of insanity that is our global seafood distribution system.

I have yet to understand how the economics of food have so egregiously ignored the ecology of food for so long, and I don’t know if even radical change will come too late. But I do know that right now, every community on our planet needs to wake up to a seafood crisis. At stake is not only the human diet’s most nutritious animal protein, but also the trophic balance of all aquatic ecosystems.

Slow Fish is uniquely positioned to spread this gospel like no other organization, and I look forward to seeing talk of change lead to actions that will preserve both fisheries and fishermen.

Evan Mallett is chef/owner of Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, N.H. He also sits on the national Chef’s Collaborative Board of Overseers, the Slow Food Seacoast Board of Directors and the NOAA Seafood Marketing Steering Committee.

REGISTER for Slow Fish 2016.
JOIN our Facebook Event Page.
SUPPORT our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

HOST a Fisher-Chef Alliance dinner.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sparking Change, One Classroom at a Time

By Colles Stowell, founder of One Fish Foundation

This is one in a series of stories from some of the people attending Slow Fish 2016. 

I did my best to look confident as I sat down at the table with a bunch of 9th graders clutching their iPads. Inside, butterflies were doing the tango. What was I doing here?

I’d been asked to serve as an expert, listening to students’ sustainability projects, called expeditions, at the Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine. My role was to provide feedback on topic choice, resource selection and content. I’d been writing about sustainable seafood for four years, diving into important issues like bycatch, international fisheries management, aquaculture, ecolabeling, etc. But I’d only had a smattering of teaching experience, and I wasn’t really sure if I could help these students.

Then the first student delivered a well thought-out overview of the collapse of the Northern shrimp fishery in Maine. He’d done much of the same research I had, and had come to many of the same conclusions about the potential negative effects of water temperature increases, and decreases in the phytoplankton the shrimp eat.

I was amazed. At that instant, I realized high-school and even middle-school students are at a good age to begin learning about the issues around sustainable seafood. If students can not only engage with the topic, but also care enough to seek solutions, there’s hope for the future of marine ecosystems. Why not bring that message directly into classrooms?

That was two years ago. In the interim, I became involved with movements like Slow Fish because I shared similar views on responsible fisheries. I’ve worked with the team planning Slow Fish 2016 messaging strategies, and look forward to continued collaboration on Slow Fish messages and events.

Reviewing harvest method basics with 6th graders in South Portland, Maine.

I also launched a non-profit specifically aimed at discussing with middle- and high-school students some of the most important issues about how seafood gets from boat or farm to plate. One Fish Foundation teaches students to think about seafood not just as frozen fish sticks, but as a precious resource delivered via an often complex system. In one or two classroom visits, we talk about the delicate ecological and environmental balance between healthy fish populations, harvest, anthropogenic impacts, changing ecosystems and local economies.

I’ve worked with students aged four through 15. I brought a lobster trap and a turtle excluder device into my daughter’s pre-kindergarten class, and managed to hold their attention for half an hour. We talked about how we catch lobsters and some fish, and what we’re doing to protect the species. I’ve discussed in broad strokes some of the complexity of international fisheries management with 9th graders, and brought a dead fish into a 6th grade science class to discuss invasive species.

In every class, there’s been a moment when I see comprehension set in as students’ eyes light up and they raise their hands to ask a question or make a comment. They begin to see where the natural balance is or should be, and how we can tip that balance for the worse or the better.

Here are a few of the observations I’ve made in the past several months:

  1. Age is irrelevant. One Fish Foundation lesson plans are customized to meet students where they are in their classroom curricula. So I was able to get a bunch of pre-schoolers to understand that we don’t kill every lobster or fish we haul out of the ocean, and why that’s important. Starting the conversation early gets students to think about that balance. The older the student, the more they start to think in terms of solutions.
  2. Students are better served by having enough information to make their own decisions when at a restaurant or seafood store. There are plenty enough static buying guides available. I’ve found students more receptive to understanding why some fisheries are more sustainable than others. My 6th graders now ask specific questions about when, where and how fish or shellfish was caught or grown.
  3. Visual and hands-on props are crucial. Despite the fact the dead black sea bass was rather pungent, 6th graders crowded around the desk and begged to touch the pharyngeal plates (crushing plates in the throat). My daughter used a stuffed turtle as a prop to show how a turtle can escape certain nets.
  4. Coastal communities where seafood is abundant are great launching points for these kinds of discussions with students. Portland, Maine area students in general love seafood, and are receptive to talking about where it comes from.
  5. Enthusiasm for the topic is contagious. This is a standard teaching tenet, but made more relevant by the fact that we’re talking about food. Ten- and eleven-year olds in particular seem to be at the beginning threshold where they start to care about how food gets on their plates. Slow Fish 2016 will bring enthusiasm to community discussions about seafood issues, including the importance of youth involvement.
Tools of the trade: turtle excluder device, trawl net, lobster trap, and gill net.

Perhaps the most important take-away for me has been that given the information and the right impetus, some of these students may be future catalysts of change. When an 11-year-old says she told her mom not to buy shrimp at a restaurant because the waiter said it was from Thailand, I feel I’ve succeeded.

I’ve had conversations with 9th graders about the importance of community supported fisheries (CSF) in ensuring fresh, locally caught seafood while supporting local fishermen. Similar to buying shares with a CSA (community support agriculture), people buy shares of future fresh caught fish. Some CSFs, like Cape Ann Fresh Catch, focus on underutilized (read: abundant) species. Those students talked about ways to start a new CSF in their expedition projects.

When I tell people I’m bringing these messages into classrooms, they invariably tell me it’s a good idea and ask where I’m teaching next. That kind of validation underscores a critical point. Perhaps teaching students at all ages about where their food comes from -- in creative, dynamic interactions -- empowers them to make smarter decisions about what they eat. Moreover, that understanding may set the stage for them to get involved, and maybe find solutions to future sustainable seafood challenges.

Slow Fish celebrates the relationship between communities and their local seafood. But involving the community’s youth in these types of discussions is essential for ensuring seafood sustainability. Spencer Montgomery will take this notion a step further in next week’s blog, highlighting a growing movement to get college students to not only think about seafood systems, but to advocate for schools to source and serve locally available, sustainable seafood.

REGISTER for Slow Fish 2016.
JOIN our Facebook Event Page.
SUPPORT our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.
HOST a Fisher-Chef Alliance dinner.