Stake your claim

By Jessica Hathaway

Shrinkage. It’s a problem no matter the temperature of the water you’re in, as author Paul Molyneaux describes in his at-sea journey among the sea gypsy fishermen of Ko Lanta, Thailand. I’m talking about working waterfront access, of course. Small-scale fishermen are backed into corners the world over.

I believe fishing boats of all sizes and gear types have their place and should be managed accordingly. But it’s the small-scale fishermen who keep alive generations of traditional practices and preserve local access to indigenous foods. Paul goes to sea for a day in the life of Thailand’s seminomadic squid trappers and chronicles the challenges they face, many of which will sound familiar to small-boat fishermen anywhere — competition for the resource from bigger boats and sport divers, and for the waterfront from tourism and development. Paul’s story starts on page 22.

Some small-scale fisheries are robust enough to engender a strong voice for their fishermen, Maine lobster and Bristol Bay salmon come to mind immediately. But more often, small-boat captains are left to fend for themselves or nearly so. What family business owner can single-handedly compete with the allure of a new boutique hotel while using the other arm to fill out fish tickets for the feds? There are no hands left with which to go fishing. But there are some people who are committed to preserving our historic industry.

Late last year, a group of renowned fisheries scientists, led by Ray Hilborn of Seattle’s University of Washington, launched CFOOD, a website and a group built to respond to erroneous media reports on fisheries science.

If you haven’t been to their site yet, I encourage you to check it out and spread the word. “Whether it’s a critique, appraisal, or just commentary,” the group says in its mission statement, “CFOOD’s science-based approach to communicating the real story on fisheries sustainability seeks to set the record straight.”

I’m excited to feature some of these responses to lingering and widespread misinformation, the first of which starts on page 9. Hilborn reminds us that sometimes it’s important to step back from the trees and look at the forest: “Some individual stocks may be overfished, but no commercially important species has ever gone extinct or even come close to it.”

And yet, the same cannot be said for our fishing communities. If there’s one lesson we can take from the U.S. farming industry, it’s that local and farm-to-table educational efforts have saved thousands of family farms across the country and made farming a viable choice for young families. We have to reach out to the people in our communities so they can understand why this industry is worth preserving.

For my part, I’m embarking on a yearlong project in celebration of the variety of wild American fish. I’ll be publishing 52 recipes using 52 kinds of American fish. That’s one recipe a week, from fisheries spanning the country, all available on our website. I hope you will follow our journey.

Happy fishing. Thank you for sustaining us.

» Read more from Jes in her weekly Rudderpost blogs.16mar nf cvr

» Read more articles in our MARCH issue.

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