Closing the Net

15 May 2015

One of the gravest problems facing small-scale fishers throughout the world is the power they have to make their voices heard. Often their needs and opinions are not considered, not just at a policy level, but also by the general public.

 

At Slow Fish happening this weekend in the port city of Genoa, a series of meetings between the Slow Fish network—Slow Food’s worldwide network of small-scale fishers–is giving its members the opportunity to communicate with each other, despite the diversity of nationalities represented, in a language they understand. Slow Fish serves as a platform for opinions to be voiced, ideas and knowledge to be shared, and for strategies and approaches to become concrete.

 

The key theme running through the first session on Wednesday, May 14, entitled How to celebrate cultural diversity by prioritizing artisanal fishing, was communication, and specifically, in such a globalized and expansive world how the vital role of small-scale fishers can be highlighted and preserved. How we, the public, can realize where our fish comes from– not caught in neatly packaged fillets–and understand the plight of those who provide it? Communication and the tools at the disposal of fishers are at the core of these issues. Better communication of the valuable role of small-scale producers will help narrow the gap between the public and its fish.

 

Slow Fish campaign coordinator Michèle Mesmain opened the meeting by encouraging all participants recount their stories. This moment alone was emblematic of Slow Food events, in allowing delegates with similar plights–from Tunisia to Mauritania, Denmark and Turkey–a space to share their stories.

 

Tan Morgul from Turkey spoke about his book, Raki & Fish, which recounts the experiences, cultures and practices of artisans working in the industry. He highlighted the problem of consumers lacking information relating to fish and its origins and the loss of contact between consumers and fishers. In writing his book, Morgul travelled many urban areas throughout Northern Africa and Europe and discovered that those living in urban areas weren’t aware of the struggles and loss of small-scale fishers, along with the knowhow and techniques they possess.

 

One way to bridge this gap is to exploit new communication mediums. Written literature, such as Morgul’s book is one of many effective communication streams, as is audio-visual communication. The creation of low budget documentaries was mooted as a key simple but effective communication tool. One Danish representative explained how such videos are commonly screened publically in Denmark and central to consequent discussions. She plans to use this weekend at Slow Fish as an opportunity to gather interviews and material to produce more documentaries.

 

Barbara Geertsema from the Wadden Sea Traditional Fishers Presidium in the Netherlands explained how, with the majority of the wild oyster fishers over the age of 60, a whole generation of future fishers could be lost. In an attempt to counteract this, local fishers offer boat trips to provide a glimpse into their working lives, hoping to develop a bridge with producers, and ultimately promote the life of a fisherman as a viable and commendable career. The Presidium also provides a filleting workshop. “Most people have no idea how to prepare fish,” she said.

 

The role of events was also highlighted as a valuable tool in spreading information by engaging the local public. From a bouillabaisse celebration in France, which promotes the need to use underutilized species; to the Tigri festival in Morocco, which every July aims to promote local food traditions and sustainable practices; to an octopus festival in Tunisia. It was suggested to create some sort of universal tool to promote all events across the world that promote the Slow Fish philosophy. It is this kind of common management that has been missing in uniting small-scale fishers from around the world.

 

Only with effective communication between small-scale fishers and those outside of the sector is rational consumption and rational management possible.  With the now pressing need for an integrated network of small-scale fishers that is connected with wider society, all possible avenues of communication must be exploited to preserve not only livelihoods, but also our common resources.

 

 

Keep following Slow Fish this weekend on Facebook, Twitter and on the Slow Fish website. 

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