By Hannah Heimbuch, Community Fisheries Organizer
At the end of February, while Homer basked in 40-degree weather, I ventured out for a visit to a very wintery New England. In Gloucester I was able to spend three days with members of the Fish Locally Collaborative, a diverse group of marine conservationists that work to create a healthy ocean through community based fisheries and other important efforts.
This valuable face-to-face meeting allowed me to gain a much deeper understanding of the unique members and joint capacity of the FLC. I have a broader understanding of the social, environmental and economic movements taking shape within the marine conservation world, and how our work in Alaska informs and is informed by those efforts.
I was particularly excited to hear about the ways other organizations have translated positive energy and good ideas into meaningful actions for healthy marine ecosystems, and marine based coastal economies. I met leaders of the Slow Fish movement, individuals doing important research into community-based fisheries models, sustainable seafood marketers building direct relationships between chefs and fishermen, and many others. The diverse projects and programs being run by the independent members of this collaborative reflect a worldwide community of people working hard for sustainably managed fisheries and strong fishing communities.
After several days of conversation with these inspiring people, I ventured up to Portland, Maine for visits with our marine conservation colleagues in the north. An FLC member from Penobscot East Resource Center let me hitch a ride with him up from Gloucester, and gave me the rundown on Maine lobster fishery management. The next day I met with Susie Arnold from the Island Institute to talk about Ocean Acidification awareness and research. (Click here to see an excellent video on ocean acidification that AMCC collaborated with the Institute to create a few years ago.)
I met Lucy Van Hook from the Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association to talk community fisheries. Hugh Cowperthwaite from Coastal Enterprises Inc. took a chilly walk with me through some of Portland’s small, thriving fish markets as well as the Portland Fish Exchange. The PFE is a seafood auction warehouse — one of only a handful on the eastern seaboard — that handles nearly 100 percent of Maine’s finfish. I wrapped this incredible visit up with a conversation with Alexa Dayton from Gulf of Maine Research Institute. I learned about the Marine Resource Education Program’s work to offer expert training to marine industry workers on fisheries management and science, further empowering fishermen to weigh in on the decisions and research that impacts their coastal ecosystems and economies. Before leaving Alexa showed me around the gear lab at GMRI, where engineers work closely with fishermen to improve their gear and practices for sustainable fishing.
I flew out of Boston with much food for thought and landed in the other Portland. While in Oregon, before making my way home to Alaska, I headed to the Pacific Coast to participate in the Fisherpoets Gathering in Astoria. A whole event just for fisherpeople who write? Sounds like the place for me. To be sure, I found my people on the waterfront that weekend. One of the first people I saw walking down the sidewalk in downtown Astoria was AMCC member and fisherpoet, Steven Schoonmaker. I visited an old wooden seiner, the owners of which are Kodiak fishermen that have long participated in the event (a photo of me next to the seiner is pictured right). I read some of my own work, and listened to funny, beautiful and profound stories from many others — including AMCC Board Member, Emilie Springer. Brad Warren from Global Ocean Health, in addition to sharing some fantastic music at the evening events, gave an excellent talk on ocean acidification at the Maritime Museum. I was also able to see the new film The Breach, an incredible look at salmon throughout human history. This event is an excellent showcase of the deep and complex connections that coastal communities have to our oceans and the traditions and work that take place on and alongside them. It comes out in our professional work, in the skills we pass down to our children, and in the art we create to celebrate it.
What an incredible two weeks, packed with information and introductions that will serve to enrich my work in marine conservation for years to come.