Local Seafood Summit: Adding Value(s) to a Transforming Seafood System

22 Oct 2019

The fish we bring to the table is often seen simply as food, a source of protein useful to our diet, when in reality it encapsulates a system of relationships between chemical elements, human activities and environmental factors, which is so complex that it remains mostly unknown to us.

The value chain behind a fish product – beginning with the water it came from and the biodiversity of the plankton, two elements without which no life and no aquatic species can exist – develops through the management of marine and fishery resources by small-scale fisherfolks around the world. The chain continues with transport and trade, and finally the kitchen table. What kinds of practices and values ​​can inspire each of these overlapping links, so that one could truly talk about a good, clean and fair food chain?

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The Slow Fish network was created to show the importance of these dynamics, and call attention to the urgent need for fishing methods and seafood businesses that operate in harmony with our fragile ocean ecosystems – where a healthy relationship between the social fabric and the environment is an explicit objective. During its journey across seas, oceans and freshwater, Slow Fish has created new relationships and incorporated other identities, knowledge and languages to understand the complexity of the aquatic world.

And so Local Catch has become a traveling companion. The Local Catch Network (LCN) is a community-of-practice made up of fishers, organizers, researchers, and consumers from across North America that are committed to providing local, healthful, low-impact, and economically sustainable seafood via community supported fisheries (CSFs) and other direct marketing arrangements in order to support healthy fisheries and the communities that depend on them.

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Since 2012 Local Catch has been organizing several summits to bring together CSFs from across North America to share their experiences, learn from each other, and identify challenges and opportunities for supporting the evolution and long-term viability of CSFs. At the last Local Seafood Summit in 2016, the Local Catch network articulated a set of core values that now serve as a foundation for the movement. “Values are at the center of any meaningful conversation about responsibly sourced seafood,” said LocalCatch.org Founder and University of Maine professor, Joshua Stoll. “Adhering to those values gives consumers confidence in their choices.”

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Despite some progress in recent years, global and domestic seafood supply chains continue to be plagued by cheap imports, mislabelling, fraud, illegal fishing, environmental degradation, marginalization of fishers and fish workers, and low-quality fish. The 3rd Local Seafood Summit took place on October 6 and 7 in Portland, Oregon. Under the tittle “Adding Value(s) to a Transforming Seafood System,” the network has celebrated the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of small-scale and community-based seafood businesses committed to building a different kind of seafood system that strengthens our local, regional, and national food systems.

Catalyzed by local innovation and global collaboration, seafood enterprises seeking to create safe, fair, sustainable supply chains that support marine conservation and coastal resilience continue to emerge.  However, these businesses also continue to face financial and organizational challenges that limit their ability to sustain a triple – economic, social, and environmental – bottom line and potential long-term success. Recognizing these challenges, the summit was framed around the need to overcome them while strengthening, not compromising, values.

Before being immersed in the workshops that would set up the agenda, Willie Frank III, representative from She Nah Nam Seafood and 7th Tribal Council Member of the Nisqually Tribe in Washington State and Bob Iyall, CEO of Medicine Creek Corporation, gave keynote speeches. Their stories, mission, and values resonate with both the Local Catch and Slow Fish Networks Core Values. And like many of our members, She Nah Nam is constantly exploring ways to empower their community, steward the environment, and bring responsibly and ethically harvested seafood to more people.

Their keynote speeches ended with a very moving screening of the short film, “Salmon”    

With all these reflections in mind, we moved to discussions across the different participatory workshop tracks that have focused on the business of community-supported fisheries (CSFs), marketing, developing supply chain relationships, and place-based resilience. They have featured businesses including Skipper Otto and Sitka Salmon Shares, both among North America’s largest community supported fisheries, Dock to Dish, an innovator in restaurant supported fisheries, Northline Seafoods, a pioneer in at-sea freezing technology, Anna Marie Seafood, a leader in Louisiana’s fight against imported shrimp, Fishadelphia, a community supported fishery aimed at getting affordable, local seafood to diverse populations, while empowering youth.

The Summit has also celebrated a Sustainable Seafood Soiree with some of Portland’s top chefs, including Maylin Chavez of Olympia Oyster Bar, Derek Hansen of Jacqueline, and Jake Harth of Erizo. Seafood was provided by Kenai Red Fish Co., Port Orford Sustainable Seafood, Blue Siren Shellfish Co., and Sitka Salmon Shares.

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