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.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Slow Fish in the Americas: A Big Wave for Good, Clean, and Fair Seafood

By Brett Tolley, Community Organizer for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance

This blog is one in a series that highlights stories from some of the people attending Slow Fish 2016 in New Orleans.

For me, helping to build the Slow Fish movement over the past couple years has been an enormous privilege. Coming from a four-generation fishing family and now organizing with fishing communities around the country, I know Slow Fish's time has come. For the sake of our ocean, water ways, coastal communities, and food system, we need all-hands-on-deck.

We need Slow Fish.

What is Slow Fish you might ask? Its an international movement promoting an alternative to fast food and the globalized industrialization of our seafood system. It strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine. It strengthens relationships between fishermen*, the public, and those along the seafood value chain. And encourages fishing and eating practices in line with good, clean, and fair seafood valuesThe wave is building and we're excited to invite you to join us for the first Slow Fish international gathering in North America!

On March 10-13 community based fishermen, chefs, youth leaders, Slow Food members, and more from around the continent will be in New Orleans for four days of storytelling, network movement building, delicious locally caught seafood, and rockin' music. More details on the website.

But the Slow Fish wave to the U.S. didn't happen over night. Like any wave, it started with a few small ripples ...

2010 Terra Madre: I was part of a U.S. delegation that included 
MacArthur Genius Award recipient Ted Ames

In 2010 I met Slow Fish International Coordinator and true revol-oceanary, Michèle Mesmain. Michèle's passion and vision had already brought together a diverse international crew of fishermen, local catch marketers, marine and social scientists, and others interested in sustainable fisheries. This group taught me that challenges facing family fishermen are similar around the world, a lesson that certainly remains relevant today. 

We're seeing policy trends toward privatizing the ocean commons and concentrating access into the hands of a few. This allows high volume-low value fisheries to put too much pressure on fish stocks while opening the door to rampant seafood fraud. Non-fishing impacts like climate change and ocean acidification are affecting fish habitat and spawning patterns. Additionally, there is a complete lack of transparency around who, what, where, when, and how our fish is caught.

In light of these problems, and in the words of Oregon-based fisherman Aaron Longton ... "we need a revol-ocean". 

Traditional crawfish boil at the Slow Food National Gathering in New 
Orleans. Shrimp and crawfish provided by local fisherman Lance Nacio.

In 2013 I was invited to present the Slow Fish campaign at the Slow Food USA National Gathering in New Orleans. I learned that Slow Fish events were already happening all around the country, from the Crab Fest in San Francisco to the Shellabration in Long Island, NY. However, these collaborations weren't connected ... ripples unable to form a wave.

Spencer Montgomery, another revol-oceanary friend of mine, helped synchronize some of those ripples. At the time, Spencer was the National Youth Coordinator for Slow Food USA. Seeing the potential for a Slow Fish campaign, he went back to his home state of New Hampshire and organized a two-week Slow Fish event with other students around the region, local fishermen, chefs, and Slow Food members. Shorty afterward they got the University of New Hampshire, which is among the largest food purchasers in the state, to sign onto a set of Slow Fish Seafood Principles, committing the institution to shift millions of dollars in seafood purchases. 

Students show the love during the first student-led Seafood 
Throwdown at the New Hampshire Fishtival. Click to watch video

In 2014, together with west coast revol-oceanaries, Kevin Scribner, Sarah Shoffler and others, we formed a chartering committee to help envision a broader Slow Fish network and brought our ideas to the Terra Madre gathering in Italy. Many community-based fishermen who'd been part of Slow Fish over the years played key roles in charting the course ahead: Shannon Eldredge in Massachusetts; Jeremy Brown in Alaska; Padi Anderson in New Hampshire; Lance Nacio in Louisiana; and Rob Pursor of the Suquamish Tribe in Washington State; just to name a few. Plus Dave Adler and the crew from Slow Fish Canada!

As ripples continue to converge we work to honor our food producers, protect the land and waters we love, increase food access, and celebrate our cultural and fisheries diversity. We all want justice on our plate. And we want to enjoy the pleasures of eating and building community. Join us!

L to R: Fisherman Shannon Eldredge, fisherman Russell Kingman,
University of Rhode Island professor Seth Macinko and Brett Tolley
being interviewed at Slow Food radio during 2014 Terra Madre.

Slow Youth Network celebrating locally caught
seafood at the Slow Fish gathering in Genoa, Italy

JOIN our Facebook Event Page

SUPPORT our Indigogo fundraising campaign

HOST a Fisher-Chef Alliance dinner

READ Colles Stowell's blog Sparking Change, One Classroom at a Time

* note: the term 'fisherman' is used to refer to persons directly involved in fish harvesting. While not gender neutral, it is the preferred term by most men and women in our area who work as harvesters of fish.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Welcome to the Slow Fish 2016 Blog


Here you will find a variety of posts by Slow Fish 2016 administrators, speakers and guest bloggers. We hope you'll participate in the discussion where appropriate.