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.

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