Slowing Down Seafood

Created on Monday, 30 April 2018

By Chase Martin, Communications Project Manager

On a Saturday afternoon in a fish processing warehouse on the docks of San Francisco, I was confronted with a dream come true: 200 dozen fresh oysters, from all along the West Coast, and only a few dozen people to share them with. After an earlier Seafood Throwdown event, in which top chefs were pitted against each other to prepare their best black cod dishes, I was eager for more seafood. And I was more eager to see what other experiences the Slow Fish 2018 conference had in store.

From April 14-16, I zipped up to the Golden Gate City for the second Slow Fish conference. The weekend started with the Seafood Throwdown, which took place publicly in front of the popular Ferry Building, and allowed  locals and visitors alike the chance to learn about American seafood, ask questions, and sample the chefs’ black cod dishes.

Consumer education and face-to-face interaction with actual fisherpeople is priceless for Slow Fish. A subdivision of the global Slow Food movement, Slow Fish focuses on shortening the links between fisherpeople and consumers, empowering communities through access to local seafood, and inspiring passion for sustainable, well-managed resources. Attended by fisherpeople from across the country, NGOs and industry working to help and restore American fishing economies and heritage, and interested consumers, the conference was a mixture of success stories, hot topics in fisheries, and obstacles still to be overcome. These were driven by the three tenets that the Slow Food movement revolves around: Good, Fair, and Clean.

These were manifested in the first full day’s “World Cafe” activity, with nine breakout sessions, each focused around one of the tenets. I chose Direct Marketing, Women in Fisheries, and Aquaculture.

In Direct Marketing, embodying the “Good,” we discussed how storytelling at the local and near-local levels can establish brand-identity and put a seafood on a solid track to success. Led by Hog Island Oyster Co. founder John Finger, we heard firsthand how an honest, well-marketed company can thrive and even overcome unforeseen hurdles, including an oyster recall due to waters polluted by campers. I then jumped over to Women in Fisheries–the “Fair” tenet–for the next cycle, which focused on inclusive communication when describing individuals who fish (notice I’m using fisherpeople!), and some of the darker realities for women working in such a male-dominated industry. It was hands down my favorite of all the sessions, and had me thinking back to the important work our Social Responsibility team does in a similar realm. Moving on, I finished up at the Aquaculture group, where the “Clean” tenet was evident in the speakers’ steady stance on aquaculture that is both rigorously sustainable and responsible.

Throughout the event, the talk of salmon was everywhere – understandable given the amount of folks who came down from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska – and the second day really drove home the reason why. Faced with a looming possible Bristol Bay mine development threatening the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world and numerous other concerns, salmon fisherpeople are at the the forefront of the Slow Fish movement. They hope that by connecting consumers to the story behind the world’s arguably most popular superfood, they can garner support that leads to action and action that leads to success.

If there was one thing to take away from the Slow Fish 2018 conference, it’s that American fisherpeople are vehemently passionate about fish. And rightly so. Salmon, shrimp, oysters, and many more salty animals make up their livelihoods in many instances the communities they live in, and form the basis of one of the most important relationships to these hard-working folk: the connection they have with those who buy their catch.

The message from the fisherpeople was clear: take care of the fish and those whose livelihoods rely on them, and they’ll take care of us.