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By Megan Mackey, Fisheries Program Manager at Ecotrust
Making a living as a community-based fisherman gets harder every day. Too often, independent fishermen have to go it alone when dealing with challenges like maintaining their access to fish, marketing their catch, and meeting the changing requirements of government regulations.
This past November, members of the Community Fisheries Network (CFN) from around the nation gathered in Monterey, California, to talk shop âÂ covering topics ranging from technology, national fisheries policy and access, seafood marketing and opportunities to channel momentum from the local food movement into seafood.
âWe identified some concrete and innovative actions to pursue as a network that will promote sustainable fisheries and sustainable fishing communities,âÂ said Linda Behnken of the Alaska Longline Fishermenâs Association.Â âAll of us left the meeting recharged and brimming with new ideas.â
Through convening groups like the Community Fisheries Network, Ecotrust helps fishermen come together to share their stories and ideas with a shared vision of healthy fishing communities and a healthy ocean.
The CFN connects community-based commercial fishermen to each other in order to collaborate on solutions to shared challenges. Made up of 13 community fishing organizationsÂ in Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington, the Community Fisheries Network aims to ensure that fishing families can continue providing more sustainable, locally caught seafood to people across the country.
CFNÂ members share their experiences and lessons, information on sustainability standards and tools for catch accountability, business methods, collaborative branding and marketing, and develop cooperative responses to regional and national fisheries policy.
Since these fishermenÂ are busy working in their communities âÂ fishing and working to sustain their businesses âÂ it can often be a challenge for them to find the time and resources to connect with peers. At a time when the majority of networking and sharing happens via conference calls and email lists, CFN members prefer to look each other in the eye as they imagine the future of their fisheries and their communities.
As one member put it, âMost valuable for me was sharing the different things that are happening at the local level in the realm of community fisheries. There were a lot of incredibly interesting people at the meeting, and I enjoyed learning from these people individually. This in-person meeting allowed us to connect and strategize with other CFN members about common issues and solutions in a way that just canât be done electronically.â
The challenges CFN members are exploring together include closing the gap between consumers and the local catch of the day, supporting the next generation of fishermen, protecting small-boat access to fisheries, gaining access to markets, and addressing infrastructure needs for fishing communities âÂ things like ice machines, storage, and distribution. All of these pieces are critical for the long-term viability of community fisheries.
Small, tightly knit, coastal communities are well versed in the dangers of working at sea. And when tragedy strikes one family, it most often affects many. On January 19, CFN member Leesa Cobbâs fishing boat, the Eagle III, capsized outside Charleston, OR. The captain made it to shore, but one of the crew did not survive and two more are still missing. Our thoughts are with Leesa and the families and friends of the crew. Learn more about how you can help the families affected in this tragic accident on Port Orford Sustainable Seafoodâs Facebook site.