Sustaining (and Serving) Local Fisheries
By: Elise Hugus, September 28, 2012
ELISE HUGUS - Shannon Eldredge, a fisherman, marine educator and sustainability advocate from Chatham, weaves a basket made from ropes discarded by her family's weir fishing operation. She sells the baskets, as well as other useful items, at Nickerson Art Gallery on Main Street, Chatham and online at nickersonartgallery.com.
Brett Tolley and Shannon Eldredge grew up in multi-generational fishing families just a mile down the street from each other in Chatham. Throughout high school and college they dug steamer clams side by side on the flats of Monomoy to earn tuition money.
Since then, both have stayed connected to their roots—most recently joining forces in the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance’s “Who Fishes Matters” campaign, advocating for better markets and policies for family fishermen.
Now, the two friends are taking their fight for sustainable fisheries to the international level as New England delegates at the Slow Food International “Terra Madre” Conference in Milan, Italy from October 25 to 29.
Wine, Dine & Learn
To raise funds and awareness about their work, Tolley and Eldredge will be hosting a Weir Pier Concert and Last Tow Stew, a tradition among fishing families, who bring home their last catch of the day to eat for dinner.
Sunday, October 14 from 4:30- 8:30 PMChatham Fisheries Trap Dock on Stage Harbor 3 Champlain Road, Chatham
For a $50 donation, diners will be treated to a communal candlelit dinner on the pier featuring fish caught by the F/V Dawn T and seafood from the F/V Donna Jean II and George’s Fish Market, as well as produce from the local farmer’s market. There will be a cash bar of Naukabout pale ale and wine.
After dinner, internationally touring indie folk artist duo Sarah Lee Guthrie (the daughter of legendary folk musician Arlo Guthrie) and Johnny Irion will play a sunset serenade on the pier.
Held rain or shine, tickets are available at Nickerson Art Gallery (618 Main St. Chatham) or online. Members of fishing families are invited free of charge.
For those who can’t attend, tax-deductible donations may be sent to NAMA, PO Box 7066 Gloucester, MA, 01930 with a memo “Brett and Shannon.”
Working with delegates from Indonesia to Ireland on the organization’s Slow Fish Manifesto, Eldredge says she hopes to come away from the conference with a realistic and sustainable fisheries policy that can be adopted by governments worldwide.
“What we’re proposing is more diversity within the fleet, which means less companies marginalizing community fishermen and preventing them from entering the business,” says Eldredge, who also works as the education coordinator at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum in Hyannis.
“It’s squeezing out the smaller fishermen… who are experiencing consolidation of the fishing fleet. We stand in solidarity with small fishermen from Great Britain to Africa and the Indian Ocean,” Eldredge says.
A disaster or an opportunity?
On September 13, the US Department of Commerce declared the New England fishing stock in a state of “disaster,” but Eldredge says this news is due to quota policies that favor large commercial boats at the expense of small-scale, family-owned operations.
Her own family has witnessed the decline of local fisheries first-hand, but adapted to the shift by adopting more sustainable practices-- most visibly, its traditional weir system in Nantucket Sound.
In 2010, the Eldredge family initiated Cape Cod Community Supported Fisheries, the first CSF on Cape Cod and one of just a handful in New England. Shareholders benefit from a full year of locally harvested squid, black sea bass, scup, butterfish, bluefish, bonito, as well as sea scallops brought in from local waters by another family-run operation.
“When we heard about the idea of CSF we were at a crossroads when there was a decline in the fish we were catching. We thought we’d benefit from direct marketing, and it’s been very successful,” Eldredge says.
Eldredge’s experience as a fisherman since 2005 led her to join NAMA’s Fish Locally collaborative, an extended advisory board that focuses on outreach, sustainable markets, science and industry policy. Since 2011, she has been advocating for policies that allow small-scale fishermen to live in harmony with the rest of the marine ecosystem—and the local economy.
“The fishing industry has held Cape Cod together for a long time. I envision sustaining a way of life that’s been a tradition since the beginning of European settlement,” she says.
The alternative, she says, is “a trickle-down effect, with fishermen leaving industry… then shoreside infrastructure starts to transform. Docks, crewmen, single owners, gear suppliers, boat maintenance, those are related industries that also suffer with the loss of the fishing fleet.”