Author: Tanya Gervasi, journalist and University of Gastronomic Sciences graduate (www.unisg.it)
"The public doesn't know anything about the lives of fishers and their circumstances." So says Alain le Sann, one of the 40 Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre participants who came from various parts of the world (India, Mexico, the United States, Ecuador, the Caribbean and Norway to name just a few) for an active exchange of ideas, projects and critiques in the space dedicated to all the members of the Slow Fish network. Alain is a geography teacher, not a fisherman, but for the last 30 years he has been working on issues around agriculture and fishing, founding the organization Collectif Pêche et Développement in Brittany.
The Slow Fish network brings with it different languages and cultures, but also shared objectives. Passion unites the network members, who all have different backgrounds-though aimed primarily at small-scale fishers, it's not necessary to work in the fishing industry to belong. Freely structured, it is very flexible, and includes chefs, marine biologists, journalists, students and anthropologists as well as fishers. All that's necessary is a desire to actively open a dialog to construct local and international alliances that can work together to ensure a sustainable future for fishing.
Sadly, the fishing sector continues to be seen as a closed system, of interest only to fishers, biologists and ecologists. In fact, it indirectly touches all of us (and conversely it is affected by many factors, including agriculture and pollution). This limited way of thinking about fishing prevents us from realizing that each of us is responsible in our own small way for the state of the seas, and that only by working together can things be changed. Fishers, ecologists, biologists, politicians, scientists and educators must communicate so that they can construct a feasible collective solution. Unfortunately, so far small-scale fishing communities have been the last to be consulted on issues relating to the fishing system.
Marine biologist Nadia Repetto works to promote small-scale fishing and dreams of a future Padre Mare, a "Father Sea," like Terra Madre, to raise more awareness among the public about the complexities of the marine situation.
Certainly, if you only read newspaper reports, it is hard to realize that even though overfishing problems exist, the main issue in certain cases is climate change or pollution, of which fishers are the first victims. For its part, politics seeks to regulate the fishing system by creating bans and obligating licenses, with little involvement from those directly interested, namely people who make their living from artisanal fishing.
Working at a regional level is essential, because there is no single solution, given the complexity of the system. Ecosystems change, as do regulations in individual countries. One can start with one's own home region, as demonstrated by Lidér Gòngora Farias from Ecuador, who has been working for years to educate local consumers about making conscious and sustainable choices.
The meeting's participants, some of whom had travelled for over 24 hours, clearly had come not just to exchange opinions and experiences, but also to recharge their batteries, to really feel an integral part of a group, to support each other, to gather some energy and to personally meet others who have had success with similar challenges, as further confirmation that it is possible to bring about change.
Information and education are key, and journalists must take responsibility for investigating more deeply and communicating with those who make their daily living from the sea. The oceans are not a reservoir of infinite resources. In the end we are all "on the same boat," and we need to realize it now.