Farm-to-Table Lessons for Sustainable Seafood

Jan 22, 2013 | Updated Mar 24, 2013

Congress has been debating giving disaster relief to fishermen in the wake of Hurricane Sandy . This idea of 'fish aid' reminds us of Farm Aid, a movement that helped place the family farmer at the center of our collective awareness. Farm Aid set out to save independent farmers in response to the decline of the small American farm. In contrast, the rallying call of sustainable seafood has been around saving our oceans. While there's no questioning the importance of protecting our natural resources, it's not just about the fish. The family fisherman deserves an equally honored seat at the table of the sustainable seafood movement.

It's time to start applying the concept of 'know thy farmer' to the way we source our fish. So how do we apply the lessons learned from the farm-to-table movement to a new 'sea-to-table' standard?

Respect fishing cultures

Fishing is more than a business for our Maine fisherman friend Terry Alexander. 'It's a way of life for us,' he explains. Too often we forget that real people and communities depend on our oceans. Once we recognize that a fishery is as integral to our cultural fabric as is a farm, we can start bringing a wider audience into the dialogue.

Help fishermen

If we want to get serious about having wild fish for future generations, we need to work with fishermen, not blame them for the problem. That might mean providing disaster relief in times of need, or providing tools that make fishermen more profitable. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute works directly with fishermen to develop sustainable and efficient fishing gear. It's a great example of engaging fishermen in solutions.

Fight the system

Just as CAFOs, industrial agriculture, and genetically engineered crops uphold a system that destroys the livelihood of independent family farmers, we have to be aware of similar threats to family fishermen. Factory fishing vessels, GMO salmon and industrial aquaculture are threats to traditional fishing communities, and we need to stand against them.

Certification isn't enough

Organic certification was crucial for raising consumer awareness, but it was only one piece of the puzzle. Organic food has become a mass-market industry, and many small farmers who practice truly sustainable farming cannot afford to be certified organic. It's the same with seafood. MSC certification is a good thing, but we have to move beyond the label and understand who the producer is.

As our friend Barton Seaver puts it, "Without fishermen, there is no seafood." We should take pride in knowing about who caught our fish the same way we boast about who grew our veggies -a better food system depends on it.