‘Eating is an agricultural act’ has become a catch-cry for our movement, with an increasing number of people seeing their choices as a way to support local farmers and food systems. However, when it comes to applying this co-producer approach to seafood, the situation remains much more murky. There is growing awareness of the dire circumstances facing our seas – the waste and destruction caused by fishing methods, the impact of industrial fish farming, and the increasing number of threatened species due to overfishing. Numerous campaigns and buying guides from conservation groups are having some success, but more specific information about local, sustainable fish products is much trickier.
An active interest in where our food comes from is part of an approach to sustainability that is focused on building healthy relationships – local networks, economies and communities – to ensure good decisions are made for the future. When it comes to fish, we need action from governments and the international bodies that govern our waters – better regulation and most of all effective means of enforcement are essential to getting rid of harmful practices. However, it is also down to individuals, to each of us, to play a role in taking a lead on this issue. The consumer is the final link in the chain, and when they change their behavior, the whole food system has to follow – from the bottom up.
The past offers examples of our power. When consumers spoke up against the dolphin by-catch from tuna nets in the 1990s, they brought about real change. And swordfish stocks climbed thanks to the Give Swordfish a Break campaign in the United States in 1998. Today, some new approaches are showing how we can successfully build a truly regional response and connect with sustainable fishers. In particular, local seafood buying groups are successfully mimicking the Community Support Agriculture method, showing us one promising way forward to more sustainable seafood consumption.
Slow Food members, food communities and convivia are also making progress, not only through the projects that you can read about on the Slow Fish campaign website, but through their daily choices and many small events and initiatives to promote these issues. Some of these activities are also highlighted in the Slow Fish Challenge, in which participants research sustainable fish choices in their region, hold a small event to share this information with their community and send their findings and recipes to be published on the website.
Later this month artisan fishers from around the world will meet in Genoa at the international Slow Fish event, which is focused this year on their very vulnerability – the dying art of small-scale fishing and preserving in an era of industrialized fleets and mechanized processing. Let’s all think about how we can support them in our region and increase awareness of the work they undertake to put fish on our table: Let’s invite artisan fishers and their products to our farmers’ markets, events and dinner tables, and promote them in campaigns that bring the sustainable fish issue to a local level and empower the consumer to make good decisions.