Friday, December 24, 2010

Remembering the WSFC before years's end

The World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress and the Coastal Zone Asia Pacific Conference were celebrated from October 18th -22nd 2010, in Bangkok, Thailand. The public attending to this event was diverse and represented a multidisciplinary of expertise and interests. During the closing day of the journey, we had the pleasure to chat with Mr. Jesús Lucero, an active member of the “Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias” (Sea Turtle Group of California, Mexico) and a professional small-scale fisher. We shared with him some insights about the events development, and about his impressions and expectations for future meetings. This video draws a fragment of our conversation with Mr. Lucero

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Congratulations to the WSFC Student Award Winners

One of the best parts of the WSFC last month was seeing bright, young students interacting with some of the most experienced and respected small-scale fisheries experts in the world. Not only does it open up opportunities for the students, we like to think that it's good for the pros too!

As part of the Congress, student participants were encouraged to submit papers for a competition. The winners were announced on the final day of the Congress:

1st place:
Marta Collier Ferreira Leite, University of São Paulo, Brazil
"A method for assessing FEK/LEK as a practical tool for Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management: seeking consensus in Southeastern Brazil"

Jeppe Høst, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
"The neoliberal catch - access rights and the clash of coastal lifemodes"

Melissa Hauzer, University of Victoria, Canada
"Effectiveness of local governance in artisanal fisheries management, Ngazidja island, Comoros"

Panwad Wongthong, University of Adelaide, Australia
"A participatory approach - key to success in mangrove management in Prednai, Eastern Thailand"

The three judges were:
Fikret Berkes, University of Manitoba, Canada
M Rafiqul Islam, Manly Council, New South Wales, Australia
Silvia Salas, CINVESTAV, Mexico

Congratulations to all the winners!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Problems facing world fisheries (Student Post)

These are turbulent times for fishing sectors around the world and the results are being felt by many in many ways. But the economic group that are arguably feeling the stress the most are the fishers who make a living off the ocean.

With environmental pressures to reduce fishing intensity to allow recovery of fish stocks and species that are in danger of depletion. And when you factor in the problems of marine pollution, global warming and illegal fishing by displaced fleets, something apparently needs to be done to secure the resource.

The worldwide fish harvest has reached a plateau over the past five years (at 100-120 million tonnes) it would seem the seas harvest capacity has reached its limit. With fewer fish and as such less income, policymakers have responded to calls from fishers for subsidies and have tried increasing fishing capacity. Rather than implementing a regime that could ultimately and over time solve the problem.

The problem seems to be too few fish for too many fishers. With over 30 million fishers worldwide making a living directly from the sea and another 200 million being dependant on fisheries for related activities or industries, many people would suffer negatively were they to cease fishing.

Still, something has to be done to ensure the sustainability of the resource. It has been proposed this can be done by reforming domestic fisheries, getting excess people out of the industry is key. While the immediate adjustment might hurt most fishing communities, the price of doing nothing is higher in the long run.

Many new legal instruments, guidelines and such have been developed but the political will has not existed to implement them, as doing so would mean less economic returns. One interesting view that exists is that money that has been sent to the fisheries sector through government financial transfers (which from OECD countries totalled $5.5 billion in 1999 alone). Some of that money could be used in part to get people out of the sector by funding programmes to place them in related occupations like coastguard, tourism or recreation.

For developing countries it would be more complicated as some countries lack the resources to develop their own management regime let alone monitor and survey their EEZ’s (owned waters). There may also be no alternative to fishing for their economy. In cases like this it is obvious more developed countries should help and not only in fisheries but in part as a wider development program.

The problems with the world’s fisheries are many, but one thing is certain, countries of the world must take action and cannot stand by as we head further down the road toward a global crisis.

By Matthew Shepard, Marcus Dawe, Lori King and Amanda Calnen.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fishery and poverty: Despite what you’ve heard, they don’t actually rhyme

Historically, the conventional theory used to explain the impoverished conditions in the small scale fishery focuses on two points: 1) the Malthusian limitations of the resource and 2) the open access nature of fisheries, leading to the tragedy of the commons.

Thus, poverty is said to be so widespread because fishery resources are susceptible to rampant over-exploitation and it is hardly a closed access system. In addition, fishing has been understood as a last resort for many in rural areas, particularly in the developing world. Seems like a plausible explanation, but this is only a part of the story.

First, as Christopher Béné and others have pointed out this argument can lead to a path of circular reasoning . Here it is: people fish because they are poor, and fishers are poor because they fish. Along this line, we are stuck indefinitely.

But, as suggested in the title of this entry- Fishery and poverty do not rhyme (in any literal or metaphorical sense)! The question is how do we come to understand and explain poverty?
The emerging thought speaks to larger social, economic and political factors.

To begin, political influence ensures unfair access to fishing rights by favouring the wealth and politically advantaged and dismissing the small scale, artisanal fishers.
For instance, in some regions, fishing rights are treated as a commodity by being sold to wealthy fishers and large company owners. Many small-scale fishers are desperate for the money, despite the fact that the amount paid to them is only a fraction of what could be obtained through actually fishing. The power imbalance that exists between ship and factory owners and the fishers leaves the latter is a highly vulnerable position.

In short, those in power (i.e. those with create and influence policy) maintain the current status quo, by upholding those policies that do not accurately consider the rural, small-scale fishery context. This includes a lack of support for the adaptations and strategies that fishers and communities use to engage in the fishery.

To enrich our understanding of fishers, and the poverty they experience in small-scale fishing operations, one approach that has been offered is the livelihoods framework ., which aims to address place-based solutions to the issue of poverty. Through this, we may get better sense of the many factors that contribute to poverty in the fishery.

What do you think?

Post by Janelle, Jen, Lynn and Jessica

Friday, October 22, 2010

Moving Forward: Plans and Strategies.

The conference is almost over, and the question of the day is, “how do we move forward?”

We all believe that small-scale fisheries deserve more attention and more resources than they are currently getting, so one of the outcomes we decided upon for this conference is the creation of a list of areas and topics in need of more research and more work.

After a morning of sessions, the entire group separated into smaller groups, broken down by region (Asia-Pacific, Africa, North America, Europe and South America/Caribbean.) Those smaller groups then spent time synthesizing presentations and conversations from the past couple of days to come up with a list of top priorities for research.

The ideas were then presented to the group as whole. It was an excellent chance to see the overlapping issues from continent to continent, as well as revealing some of the challenges that are more geographically or culturally distinct.

Several major common threads emerged.

In terms of external issues, climate change and its impacts upon small-scale fisheries was mentioned by most of the regional groups. Issues like small-scale fisheries’ role in food security was mentioned, as was the role of small-scale fisheries in reducing poverty.

The need for better, more informed governance also emerged as a hot topic, with several groups, as well as commentators, raising the question of what role researchers need to play in making sure that research gets into the hands of policy-makers.

Another major theme was the need for collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas, research and practise: small scale fisheries issues have the potential to impact in a range of areas, from poverty, to health, etc. The suggestion was made that we need to be more proactive in finding linkages and maximizing our impact through partnerships.

Some of the points raised concerned the cold, hard facts, from better national stats on small-scale fisheries, to better methods of assessing the impacts of research.

This is just a sampling of the sorts of ideas that the breakaway groups generated: the presentations will be posted in the WSFC webpage shortly, and we urge you to take a look to get the whole picture.

No doubt, the issues raised should give us all plenty to chew on until the next WSFC.

In closing, I think that John Kurien summed it up best when he talked about the potential for this group to act in a prophetic manner: we’ve seen the past, we’re here in the present, and, given our expertise, experience and connections with smart and engaged people, we’ve also got the potential to see into tomorrow.

As we leave the conference, perhaps we can all strive to not only predict the future, but also to put our mark on it. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A word of encouragement!

Steve Needham of FAO in Thailand sent along this quick post about his experience of the Congress.

Thanks, Steve!

"It's day 3 and the presentations keep coming hard and fast.

This event provides a superb opportunity to gain insight into so many aspects of small scale fisheries.

The mix of participants is also excellent with strong contingents from both North and South America overcoming the misery of 30 hour plus travel itineraries to be here!

For the Spanish funded Regional Fisheries Livelihoods Programme that I represent the potential for knowledge sharing is enormous as we can draw so many lessons from other activities around the world.

Congratulations to all involved and Keep up the good work!"

Please feel free to send your own post- I'd love to hear how you're feeling half-way through the Congress.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Re-evaluating Assumptions: A Chat with Chris Béné

The topic of today’s plenary session was “Wealth, Resilience and Freedom.”

The first speaker was Chris Béné, of the Worldfish Centre in Malaysia. His talk, “Is the Wealth-based Approach Really Appropriate for Small-scale Fisheries in the Developing World? An Alternative Perspective” compared the relative merits and shortcomings of the wealth-based and the welfare-based approaches to fisheries.

I was able to catch him during a break to get his further thoughts on this issue, and to follow up on a couple of points that stood out to me during his presentation:

Q: In your talk, you suggest that the wealth-based model for fisheries tends to work better in developed nations, and the welfare-based model seems to benefit developing nations. Could you briefly explain the primary reasons for the different levels of success?

A: It seems that the capacity of the fisheries sector to extract rent, which is the wealth-based model, is more appropriate for the conditions in developed countries, while the prevention mechanisms that can be provided by the fisheries are probably more adapted to what is needed, at the present time, in developing countries. It’s a process, so we move from one end to the other. All the fisheries in the world will be part of that movement from a poverty reduction approach, to poverty prevention.

Q: At the beginning of your talk, you mentioned that it’s important for us to remember that about 56% of people involved in small-scale fishing are women. Does gender play a role in the differences between what works in developed vs. developing nations?

A: I don’t think it does, in the sense that the importance of women in the fisheries sector is not different in developed and developing countries. In both cases, the role of women in the sector is quite important. Of course, they interact differently in both cases, but I guess my point is that as soon as we talk about small-scale fisheries, we need to have in mind that half of the labourers in that sector are actually women.

Q: To conclude, your talk, you spoke briefly about the different costs of the two approaches. In your opinion do the benefits outweigh the costs of either approach?

A: When I say “costs” I don’t necessarily mean economic costs. It could be social costs, and that’s really what I was trying to highlight, that you will have to make some hard choices, trade-offs. Neither approach is actually free of cost. The importance is to realize is that by supporting or promoting one approach vs. the other, you cannot simply look at the benefit. It’s a rhetorical strategy that is sometimes adopted by people to promote their approach- they’ll present the benefits, but won’t put as much energy into demonstrating or evaluating the cost. It’s important to talk about both the benefit and the cost.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Interviewing the Interviewer: A Chat with Ellen Hines

This morning, I had a chance to sit down with Ellen Hines, an associate professor in the department of geography and human environmental studies at San Francisco State University. She’s also the director of the Marine Conservation Spatial Planning Centre at the University.

Ellen Hines
I was actually a bit nervous to interview her- after all, the plenary session talk she gave today was titled "Using Interviews to Document Changing Values of Small-scale Fishers" and part of her work focuses on using interviewing to assess the values of small-scale fishers.

The project includes three prongs: population monitoring, habitat assessment of marine mammals, and assessment of the values and perceptions of small-scale fishers who share their regions with species under pressure.

While the project, which covers various fishing regions in countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, includes many of the traditional, technology-based approaches to data-gathering (marine surveys, GIS remote sensing, modeling), there is also a significant social-science interviewing element to the work.

I asked her to talk a bit about her research, and to elaborate on some of the issues she raised in her plenary talk.

Q: Did the fishers react differently to the more quantitative questions you asked (questions about population numbers, for example) than they did to the highly subjective values-based inquiries?

A: The scientific questions that were asked were more quantitative for the most part. Those were the questions we could confirm through our own surveys and research methods. In terms of asking people questions about their opinions and their thoughts about conservation, it’s just as valuable. It gives us information we can corraborate within a specific field of trends that we can compare to different values and circumstances to get a more complete picture of a place-based situation.

Q: In your presentation, you mentioned that one of the responses you heard quite regularly was that the fishers wanted their children to be able to experience the dugongs, the dolphins, etc. Do you see any opportunities for capitalizing on that valuation to help support conservation in the future?

A: Totally. That is something I heard all over. For me, it really ties to the point that Thailand (of all the regions in the study) has been the place where there’s been more education. You have kids coming home and saying, “Wow. Look what I learned in school today.” I think it gives us a great opportunity to emphasize education. Also, it shows us that people place value upon their way of life. Sometimes people perceive small-scale fisheries as sort of a last gasp, but I believe that in many cases, people are very proud of their way of life. That they want their children to experience that way of life as an intact tradition is very powerful.

Q: You made a connection in your talk between political stability and self-determination, and openness to conservation. Do you believe that conservation is a lost cause in struggling areas?

A: It depends on your goals. The people who live in these areas cannot afford long-term goals. We as scientists, policy-makers and managers have to have those goals for them. They need governments that can take both short-term measures, like creating infrastructure, as well as long-term goals so that these people can have sustainable lifestyles.

I'd like to thank Ellen for answering my questions, and I'd very much like to hear what you think about what she had to say.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Local Fisheries, Global Demand (Student Post)

Throughout the congress, students from Ratana Chuenpagdee's World Fisheries course at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, will be guest-posting here on the blog. Part of their assignment is to respond to comments and get involved in discussions with people attending the conference, and with other students around the world. 
We welcome comments, and encourage you to join the debate!

The negative effects of globalization have been discussed in several papers.

In one case we looked at in class, the preservation efforts of local governments are contrasted with the market demand created by globalization. The paper we reviewed highlighted an interesting phenomena where global markets often fail to generate the self-interest that arises from attachment to place. In this particular scenario, roving bandits were exploiting unprotected resource areas; this is known as the tragedy of the commons, where open access to a resource ultimately leads to its depletion.

Because we live in an age of globalization and growing global food demand, this appears to be happening on a large scale. New markets can develop so rapidly that the speed of resource exploitation often overwhelms the ability of local institutions to respond.

This begs the question- what can be done about this situation?

The paper suggested various approaches that were all centered on finding ways to match the growth in demand for local marine products, with the development of institutions to regulate harvesting by roving bandits. The main concern is getting restrictive measures on harvesting in place quickly, as species can often become severely at risk before the risk is even recognized. Suggested approaches included establishing harvest permits and controlling the delivery of products to markets in order to dampen the rate of increase in demand.

Whether or not controlling product delivery, for example, is a realistic measure to take is debateable, in our opinion. 

Our immediate reaction to this suggestion was “how could controlling delivery dampen demand”? 

Demand will arguably exist at a significant level. If governments restricted the delivery of products and made fewer products available, retailers would likely increase their prices in order to maintain profits. We recognize that this may be the intended result-make fish more expensive and people will buy less of it. However, consumers may continue to buy fish simply because they enjoy it.

Would such a measure be effective? 

Could it be modified in order to be effective if not? 

And, are there any additional measures which could be taken to remedy this situation?

We look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section!

Post by Susan, Andrew, Brett and Leanne.

Day 1: Context and Collaboration

Plenary sessions began today, with sessions covering a diverse range of subject matter, from several ICZM case studies, to research on mangroves and ocean hotspots.

Most of the speakers made a point of providing some context on the regions they study, explaining the challenges inherent to the areas. Interestingly, while the subject matter covered an incredibly broad range of topics, one really came to the forefront…

Collaboration, whether between levels of government, universities and communities, or planners and developers from different regions, emerged as a crucial factor in effective coastal management.

Poh Poh Wong noted that, even in the wake of the 2007 tsunami, there is still no effective regional system in place for tsunami warning, partly due to various problem (lack of integration, conflicting agendas) that basically come down to collaboration.

Guifang (Julia) Xue also highlighted the potentially negative effects of a lack of collaboration, explaining that in China, there is no ICZM at the national level. She described “the 9 dragons,” separate government agencies, all with some coastal zone responsibilities, but no over-arching plan.

We also heard about situations where collaboration led to progress, particularly in terms of ICZM planning. As Marilyn Alcanices shared, community consultation was at the heart of the planning process for a five year ICZM vision for the Oriental Mindoro province in the Phillipines, and, according to Rafiqul Islam, local input continues to guide, and sometimes supersede, governmental action in the city of Manly in Australia.

Have you got any thoughts on encouraging greater collaboration through all stages of the ICZM process? We welcome readers to share their experiences!

Welcome to Bangkok!

It’s finally here...

Today was the first official day of the Coastal Zone Asia Pacific Conference (CZAP). The World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress (WSFC) will start tomorrow, but due to the overlapping subject matter of the two meetings, organizers decided it made sense for them to overlap.

Delegates from around the world have made their way to Bangkok (many with the jetlag to prove it) and gathered this morning in the Chao Praya room at the Montien Riverside Hotel for the first round of sessions.

Chair of the local organizing committee, Kungwan Juntarashote, opened the conference with a welcoming address, encouraging delegates to share their experiences, engaging in “fruitful discussions inside and outside our sessions.”

Ratana Chuenpagdee, chair of the international organizing committee also emphasized collaboration and discussion, but also encouraged delegates to enjoy themselves, promising, “from now on it’s only going to be fun.”

I think we can all get behind that!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Newfoundland Shrimp Quota Cuts: The Human Cost of Fisheries Shifts (Student Post)

Throughout the congress, students from Ratana Chuenpagdee's World Fisheries course at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, will be guest-posting here on the blog. Part of their assignment is to respond to comments and get involved in discussions with people attending the conference, and with other students around the world. 
We welcome comments, and encourage you to join the debate!

On the heels of the announcement that shrimp quotas in Newfoundland, Canada, will be cut from 30,000 tons to 17,000 over the next two years,  fishers are having bad memories of the cod moratorium of the early 90’s. 

Small shrimp, big effects on individuals and communities.
Following the collapse of cod in Newfoundland, fishers turned to shrimp as a new means of income and industry. The change in species not only changed the methods and equipment used but also the licenses and rules in place for fishing shrimp. 

Now that it appears that shrimp stocks may be in decline, many of the fishers have been left in a precarious situation, especially those who refinanced their operations in order to take advantage of the new market. This is in part brought on by the rebound of the cod stocks aided by the current moratorium. The problem this creates is fishermen are not able to fish up the food chain, nor are they able to fish further down the food chain.

As a result of these dynamics, further strain is put on the social complexity of the fishing industry. For many fishers, changing from cod to shrimp has caused a financial strain, whereby fishers, forced to refinance, are now relying on their specific fishing equipment to pay off their dept, along with trying save for a comfortable retirement.

The personal challenges faced by the individual fishers will also have repercussions on a higher level- as fishers struggle, the government has to pick up the slack, especially as more and more fishers approach retirement age. 

Of course, the concept of fishing down the food chain is not exclusiveto the Newfoundland fishery, but is reminiscent of a more global issue. 

With shrimp stocks declining within all areas of the North Atlantic, affecting both the Canadian and U.S. markets, this is not a localized problem and affects fishers internationally.

We've seen these sorts of declines cause massive social damage in the past...The real question is, "have we learned anything?" A failure to act in one sector of the fishery can lead to unforeseen economic losses, furthermore creating social complexity for those who rely on such industries.  

By Marcus, Amanda, Matthew and Lori.

One Size Fits All? The Challenge of Fisheries Management (Student Post)

Throughout the congress, students from Ratana Chuenpagdee's World Fisheries course at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, will be guest-posting here on the blog. Part of their assignment is to respond to comments and get involved in discussions with people attending the conference, and with other students around the world. 
We welcome comments, and encourage you to join the debate!

World fisheries can be a complex issue for many reasons.

For example, it is becoming increasingly difficult for authorities to implement policies on fisheries due to the differences between small scale and large scale fisheries. These policies are needed to regulate the fisheries but in many cases they have failed to encompass both the needs of commercial and local fisheries.

In one case we looked at in class, there were areas where the government had attempted to provide both the poor small-scale fishers (who use the fisheries for their livelihoods) and the larger scale fishers (who sell fish for profit) with equal rights to the fishing grounds.

It may have looked good on paper, but it hasn’t turned out that way in practise. 

Does community-based fisheries management work?
In some instances, poor fishers have sold their rights/quotas to the larger scale fishers to make a quick profit. In most cases the fishers had no education, and this quick profit was not enough to benefit them in the long-term. They became stuck in their positions, thus adding to the debt of these small-scale fisheries.It’s a clear case where the policies put in place to regulate the two classes of fishers ended up having a negative effect, particularly on the small-scale fishers.

So, the questions arises: Is it possible to have policies that support both the large and small scale fisheries while maintaining a sustainable fishery?

In truth, the government may not always be the best policy makers regarding the fisheries.

In class we discussed a situation where the government did not regulate the fisheries of the area. Alternatively, the authorities of the community were in charge of managing the fisheries. They decided who was allowed to fish there and the quotas. This way of managing the fisheries mainly benefited the people of that community.

Although this worked out for the locals, outsiders were often not treated well and would be banned if they did not fully follow the regulations. Since the government does not make the policies, the rules ended benefiting only a small group of people rather than larger groups.

Should governments be in complete control of policy making regarding fisheries or should the people of the area be fully in charge? Would policy making be a more effective process if both groups were equally involved in the process?

We look forward to your comments!

Post by Susan, Andrew, Brett and Leanne.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's Complicated: Ecosystems Complexity and Interactions (Student Post)

Throughout the congress, students from Ratana Chuenpagdee's World Fisheries course at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, will be guest-posting here on the blog. Part of their assignment is to respond to comments and get involved in discussions with people attending the conference, and with other students around the world. 
We welcome comments, and encourage you to join the debate!

You hear a lot about how climate change and pollution are major factors in the endangerment of ecosystems. 

However, the truth of the matter is that fishing practices are actually the lead concern for impact on ecosystems, and food security issues. Global fishing practices need to be maintained in a sustainable manner to ensure the protection of marine species. 

Historical examples of extermination or depletion of fish species, including the prime example of the cod fishery in Newfoundland, show that fishing practices are a major cause of the endangerment of marine species. 

One of the major problems is fishing down the marine webs (ecosystems). The endangerment of fish stocks also happens when fishing boats participate in illegal fishing, IUU (Illegal, Unrelated and Unreported), which allows fishing boats to take more fish than they're designated without being fined.

So, who is to blame for the endangerment of marine species? 

Consider the “need” to bring salmon and tuna into restaurants for consumption...

In a previous post, we read about the general lack of awareness of the average consumer when it comes to where their seafood comes from. In most cases, we're not only unsure of how our dinner makes it from the sea to our supper, we also have little information about which fishery practices are being used, and how much of a supply is caught at a time. 

It leads to some major questions...If there was a stronger consumer demand for information on the food sold at grocery stores, would the fishing industry respond with safer fishing practices? And what can we do about illegal fishing? Can we even say that we practise fisheries management if IUU fishing continues to take place?

It is easy enough to just say that fisheries need to be sustainable, but taking it beyond mere lip service is a trickier matter.

In our opinion, aquaculture is not the solution. 

When farming fish, fishmeal/feed is needed which then takes more fish out of the ocean, and a major food security debate is linked to this discussion. Animal feeds lessen the nutritional value and the change of fish diet does not offer a sustainable option. 

Is enforcement the answer?
We believe that the only truly effective option is a stronger system of MCS (Monitor, Control and Surveillance) to manage the effects on the ecosystem. By using enforcement, hopefully less fish will be endangered, and at least the total number of fish caught will be logged. 

What do you think?

Post by Lynn, Jennifer, Janelle and Jessica

Monday, October 4, 2010

Where does our fish come from? A quick look at the origins of fish in Canadian stores, PART 2 of 2

In our last post, we visited several supermarkets in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, to see how much we could find out about the origins of the fish for sale.

The sad truth was that we didn’t find out much. Very little information could be found by looking around the fish section and reading packages, and asking an employee wasn’t much more helpful.

We wanted to see if we would see the same kind of trends at a specialty seafood market.
We chose to visit the Seafood Shop located in St. John’s. The Seafood Shop had a much larger variety of locally caught fresh fish including cod, halibut, flounder, salmon, trout, lobster and scallops.

Of course, when looking at the selection of frozen fish products we saw products originating in, or processed in, foreign countries, as Thailand, Vietnam or India, as well as products such as ocean perch where no origin was provided on packaging.

Still, in general, the fresh fish variety available was more extensive than that offered in supermarkets— the fresh fish case was the centre of the store, with a better display than supermarkets and the store workers were helpful and had good knowledge of the fish they were selling and its origin. Still, there were no labels, brands, marks, or information available for the consumer to distinguish between locally-caught and imported fish, or the conditions under which it was captured.

In conclusion, it seems we have a poor knowledge about what we eat, and very limited options when it comes to supplementing our understanding of the origins of our fish products.

We would love to see a more responsible, proactive attitude by stores in this sense. Change could also be influenced by governments and institutions, who could introduce initiatives in order to resolve the current lack of public information/awareness.

Where does our fish come from? A quick look at the origins of fish in Canadian stores, PART 1 of 2

Canada is a multicultural country with a rich fishing heritage, particularly in highly coastal areas like many in Canada’s eastern-most province, Newfoundland and Labrador (which just happens to be where I’m currently located.)

These days, consumers group, are becoming more and more interested in knowing both where their food has come from, and the sustainability implications of its production.

It’s something that interests me, so a friend and I decided to head into several stores in our city, St. John’s, to do some detective work…Are local stores are responding to the push towards accountability and traceability that seems to be taking place? We wanted to find out.

Two brands dominate the supermarket scene in St. John’s— Sobey’s, with six locations, and Dominion (part of the Loblaws chain, Canada’s biggest), with 3 stores.

We visited one Sobeys, and one Dominion. Both stores had a selection of fish, including fresh fish, frozen fish and processed fish products, ranging from nuggets and burgers to pickled, smoked and canned items.

Taking a look at the packaging, we quickly noticed a couple of things about the origin of the products:
  • The vast majority of the shrimp products were imported from areas with large-scale shrimp aquaculture operations, including Thailand, Ecuador and India.
  •  Most of the fish caught in North America (cod and salmon) was sent to China for packaging, then brought all the way back to be sold.
  •  Most of the North American products we found were processed fish and aquaculture-grown shellfish.
  • Both stores had fresh, locally-caught or produced cod and Atlantic salmon for sale.
We also talked to store employees, asking them about the origins of the fish they were selling; however, we didn’t find the workers all that knowledgeable about either the products, or their origins.

So, what does it mean? We made a couple of quick conclusions from what we saw.

First, our visit confirmed our suspicion that many consumers, including ourselves, have very little awareness of the origin of the fish we eat. The same goes for the employees in the stores—obviously, it isn’t seen as a training priority for staff.

Second, despite the significant role played by fishing activity in development of St. John's, and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole, the fresh fish available at supermarkets is very limited. 

Third, we noticed the lack of information about the characteristics of fish products, the sort of processing method used, or the conditions under which it was captured. Even asking an employee a question isn’t likely to lead to answers.

Next post, we visit an independent fish seller in St. John’s to see if they can tell us more about where our dinner is coming from…Stay tuned!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Classroom participation goes global at the Inaugural WSFC

An international conference is an incredible opportunity for sharing ideas, but what about the people who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to make it?

WSFC organizer Ratana Chuenpagdee didn’t want the students in her World Fisheries class at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, to miss out on the speakers in Bangkok, which is why they’ll be using this blog to stay connected, ask questions and get an up-close-and-personal perspective on what’s happening at the Congress.

 “The curriculum for the course contains readings from many of the guests who’ll be speaking at the Congress in October,” says Ratana. “Often, my students raise questions or issues after they read their assigned articles, so this will be an opportunity for them to get real answers from some of the most respected fisheries scholars in the world.”

To start, the students will read excerpts by plenary speakers, including Svein Jentoft, Chris Béné and Katia Frangoudes

Next, they’ll respond to the readings here on the blog, through a series of guest blog posts. The posts will help Ratana assess how well the students have understood the readings, as well as encouraging them to speak about these sometimes complex issues in a less formal tone than you traditionally find in academic writing.

Finally, the questions that the students raise will be posed directly to the speakers, filmed and shared, here on the blog, and after the conference in the classroom.

We’d like to encourage all conference members to be as active on the blog, and with the students in particular, as possible. Feel free to comment on their posts, answer questions, and raise issues, the trickier the better!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why Hold a Small-Scale Fisheries Conference?

Good question.

This October's event will mark the first ever World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress. It'll be a chance for small-scale fisheries researchers, managers and interested public to connect, share and discuss the big issues affecting small-scale fisheries, both in their home regions and in the global context.

While there have been five World Fisheries Congresses (the first one was held in 1991 in Athens, Greece), it has become more and more clear that, although there are certainly areas of overlap (technological, ecological, social, and organizational challenges), there are enough specific issues facing small-scale fisheries to warrant a congress all their own.

Importantly, there are a lot of small-scale fishers in the world- estimates are as high as 35 million people, contributing something between 65% and 90% of world fisheries production!

As a result of these fisheries' staggering impact upon world food supplies and economies, the effects of emerging issues such as over-exploitation, habitat destruction, pollution, unplanned development, over-population and climate change deserve special attention.

From ecosystem dynamics and resource/space competition, to integration and global markets, the inaugural conference in Bangkok will take a distinctly small-scale approach to some fairly large-scale issues...

Exploitation, habitat destruction, pollution, unplanned development, over-population, and climate change all continue to affect small-scale fisheries—WSFC will help draw attention to the overall importance of this sector, the specificity of small-scale fisheries around the world, and the contributions that this sector can make to reverse some of the existing dire situations and to safeguard against future mishaps.
There is still time to register— just visit the official WSFC website here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Closer Look at Poverty and Sustainability in Small-Scale Fisheries.

Finding a balance between poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability can be a delicate  proposition...If you fish to eat, not fishing means starvation; however, if, by fishing, the ecosystem is degraded, a fisher may find him or herself in the very same predicament.

A major international project, PovFish, is shedding light on local, often grass-roots, solutions to poverty problem in small-scale fisheries based on case studies from around the globe. The project aims to link the effects that environmental insecurity and degradation have on poverty and food security, and vice versa.

We're very pleased to announce that the PovFish project, led by Professors Svein Jentoft and Arne Eide at the MaReMa Centre, Norwegian College of Fishery Science, University of Tromsø, Norway, will be at the 2010 WSFC along with the research team members from Asia, Africa, North America and Europe to present their work at the 2010 WSFC on Tuesday October 19th and Wednesday 20th. 

For more information on the project, please take a look at the website here.


    PovFish researchers at a synthesis meeting in Mwanza