We sometimes fall victim to the romantic idea that traditional food producers and artisans live in a world without modern technology.
In fact, many small-scale fishers and their communities have found ways to incorporate technology into their practices precisely in order to continue pursuing their traditional livelihoods, even as markets change. People who formerly fished or gathered exclusively for subsistence are now finding ways to enter the market in order to diversify and strengthen their community economies.
Peix Nostrum: From labeling to marine reserves
Francisco Cardona is the director of the fishers’ association Peix Nostrum in Ibiza. In 2008, the fishers of Ibiza created the Peix Nostrum brand, which identifies all of the products marketed by the artisanal fleets operating out of Ibiza, Sant Antoni, and Formentera. The fishers here are well aware that traceability is often the only way to guarantee high quality to consumers. The Peix Nostrum label provides this traceability and guarantees that each product has been caught by one of the boats in the association, and has not spent more than 4 hours between being caught and being landed. The serial number and QR code on the label for each product indicates who caught it and when. Peix Nostrum also guarantees that their fish are caught with selective gear that has minimal impact on the environment, and processed and preserved according to strict hygiene standards. Furthermore, the association ensures that all participating fishers observe these practices and adhere to the rules. Peix Nostrum now has 22 labels for different species and is a pioneer in the Western Mediterranean. The use of QR codes and a digital platform has allowed the fishers of Peix Nostrum to present themselves clearly and transparently in the local market. The strength of their association also makes them a powerful voice on behalf of sustainable fishing and marine management practices in the region, and the fishermen of Ibiza have driven the formation of protected areas in the waters around their islands: in 1999, they helped create the Reserva Marine des Freus de Ibiza y Formentera, a marine reserve with an area of over 13,000 hectares, and later the Tagomago Marine Reserve, which covers almost 4,000 hectares. These protected areas guarantee optimal fishing conditions and a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem that supports a sustainable economy.
Eco Gourmet: Strength in numbers
Octavio Perlaza is a technical expert at the University of Choco in Colombia. He is from Bajo Baudó, a community on the Pacfic coast of the Choco Department, an area where people rely heavily on sustainable fishing activities. Octavio represents the Eco Gourmet project, and he has been working to develop a cold chain so that small-scale fishers from Choco can get their fish to market in Bogotá and other cities in Colombia’s interior. He has helped bring together five fishers’ associations that used to work separately and market their products only at the local level. The idea is for the fishers themselves to sell their products to an association that will then market these products in Colombia and beyond; the fishers pay an annual fee, but all proceeds go back to their communities. The challenge facing fishing communities in Choco is their isolation and the lack of infrastructure in the region: many areas have no electricity, so creating a cold chain is difficult. In addition, most of the small local boats do not carry ice, so even the fresh catch doesn’t always meet cold chain requirements. Through creating a cold chain, Octavio and his colleagues hope to give local products from Choco visibility and a reputation for high quality in the wider market. They are also working to involve more of the community in the fishing and fishing-related activities.
The Piangueras of Purricha, Choco
Maria Daici Cáceres, also from Colombia’s Pacific coast, is a pianguera: she and 12 other women work 3 or 4 days a week in the mangroves, harvesting pianguas, a kind of bivalve. They work in motorized or oar-powered canoes, and occasionally in Maria’s husband’s larger motorized boat (he is a fisherman). After the harvest, they sort out the pianguas that are too small and put them back in the mangrove to continue growing for a few months. This practice is in stark contrast to the intensive shrimp farms that are destroying mangroves up and down Colombia’s pacific coast, wreaking havoc on local ecosystems and economies alike. Maria and her colleagues are trying to sell more of their pianguas in Bogotá, and the certification that allows them to do so requires that minimum sizes are respected, so an important part of Maria’s work is monitoring the harvest and teaching best practices. Maria says that virtually all of the families in her region are poor and tied to the sea in some way, but she has seen positive developments and is optimistic that she will be able to continue working as a pianguera into the future, as she and her association gain better access to the market.
The great strength of Slow Fish is that it creates a space for fishers from across the globe to gather and share ideas and experiences that will allow their communities to thrive in the future; it gives those who are eager to implement innovative solutions an opportunity to learn and gain inspiration from those who already have experience using technology and intelligent marketing in the context of small-scale, sustainable fishing. The lesson is that tradition and innovation, far from being at odds with each other, are actually interdependent. From Spain to Colombia and beyond, the guardian fishers who protect our planet’s marine systems and keep local economies thriving are using creativity to adapt and keep their traditions alive.