An alternative to industrial food systems that honors scale and the rhythm of the ecosystem via shorter supply chains.
Similar to the Foodnected project, Local Catch is a North American network of fishing families/businesses/communities, researchers, non-profit organizations, technical assistance providers, and decision-makers. We had the great opportunity to speak with Jordan Richardson – the network coordinator and Brett Tolley – the national programme coordinator for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (Nama), which provides backbone support to Local Catch.
Local Catch was founded at a time where different seafood networks were forming as an alternative to industrial fishing models.
It all started around 2009, Brett Tolley tells us, when small-scale fishers in Maine realized that the current sea food supply chain was forcing them into scenarios where they either had to catch a really high volume in order to make a decent living, which they knew was not sustainable, or not be able to make a business. They decided to unite in order to get a better price and thus reduce the pressure on the species they were catching, and it was a success! At the same time, the exact same thing was happening in North Carolina, in British Columbia and in Massachusetts. The global nature of the supply chain was getting so extreme that selling prices were getting lower and lower and reached a tipping point. In that moment, these groups realized that solidarity and sharing best practices with one another was key to be more in control of their catch. I also think the success of the whole initiative was due to the fact that it wasn’t driven by the wish to make money, but by the fishers’ livelihoods.
The Local Catch network, just like Foodnected, is guided by a number of core values thanks to which the network maintains trust among its members but also with consumers.
The values are the lifeblood of the network, Jordan Richardson insists, it couldn’t work without very clear and meaningful core values because they allow accountability and trust. For a network to thrive, there must be trust. Feeling like you are connecting with other members who also adhere to these core values is what fosters collaboration, teamwork and engagement within the network.
Collaboration and connection with like minded people is the strength of the network. Jordan explains : One of the biggest perks of being part of a structure like this is to have this network of seafood producers, businesses, technical assistance providers, researchers and being able to connect directly with them. We organize workshops and we have an internal communication tool that our members can use when they have a business question, when they’re looking for somebody that’s purchasing a certain type of product or even just to discuss the core values (for instance: what does ‘local’ mean?). It’s a great way for our members to connect with people who understand what they are going through and an opportunity to learn from one another. The network is also them giving visibility, for instance we have a seafood finder that helps consumers find fishers who directly sell their catch.
Initiatives like Foodnected and Local Catch promote fairer and more sustainable food systems that work for people, but also for nature. Industrial food systems and supply chains are messing with the environment everywhere, says Brett. Our ecological footprint is just outrageous. What we’re building here is an alternative that honors scale and the rhythm of the ecosystem with shorter supply chains.
He also stresses the importance of support coming from consumers : It’s about moral support. It is so important for people who fish. Part of what industrial fishing does is make the fisher invisible, it takes a catch and exports it outside of the country, so that the people living here don’t know what kind of fish swims in their own waters. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, it’s just that they don’t know what fishers are catching. When there’s a development coming to town threatening the livelihoods of fishers, they don’t get local support because people don’t know. So there is responsibility for consumers to get to know these things : who are the fishers, what do they catch, how do they do it?
For consumers it’s really important to understand the practices and the values that businesses are embodying, Jordan adds, and for them to know what values they are looking for when they are buying food and if these values align. The ability for our members to be transparent about where the fish is coming from is crucial for consumers to get a better understanding. It really comes down to trying to have the most direct connection possible – for instance being able to ask questions at the market or getting an explanation about where the fish was caught if it is bought online.
More info about Local Catch : https://localcatch.org/
More info about Nama : https://www.namanet.org/