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Creating a Community Supported Fishery

by Worldchanging San Francisco local blogger, Karri Winn

Ecotrust is an innovative organization based out of Portland OR in the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Building. It may seem strange to write about an Oregonian initiative on a San Francisco site – but this organization has a reach and mission that extends as far south as Baja all the way to the Yukon. That is because local for this organization is defined not by a municipal boundary, but by the historic habitat range of salmonids and steelhead, that is, the Salmon Nation. Salmon Nation is an example of a bioregion and Ecotrust is helping forge the way for bioregional planning, economics and cultural integrity by taking a whole systems approach to habitat conservation and species preservation.

In October at the Bioneers conference at the Marin Convention Center, Spencer Beebe, founder of Ecotrust gave a fabulous speech about this organization and the importance of bioregions. Beyond the cities or rural dwellings we live in, we all live in a bioregion. Bioregional planning requires deep collaboration among people living sometimes far apart among diverse ecosystems. Bioregions can be defined based on a watershed or species habitat or other features in the landscape, but generally they are made up of many diverse ecological niches. As we move deeper toward bioregional economies we will be better equipped to deal with ecological systems that are often bigger than just a city. In the case of Salmon Nation, Ecotrust is working with native peoples, foresters, fishers, conservationists, economists and community developers in order to create a systemic framework that is robust enough to solve complex multi-regional problems.

Ecotrust is working to help create a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) in the Bay Area with a dual purpose: maintain habitat for wild salmon and support local enterprise and right livelihood for the stewards of the CSF. In August I began working with Ecotrust on this project. I think the idea of a CSF is exciting for San Francisco since we have a strong local demand already for community supported agriculture and seasonal food, even just the idea of a CSF could strengthen the bond between Bay Area dwellers and the bay ecosystem enhancing our relationship to food, food producers and the regenerative needs of our local ecosystems.

As the concept of sustainability diffuses throughout the American mainstream, the idea is being increasingly related to the natural environment. However, the roots of sustainability come from development programs in the developing world and a growing realization during the 1970’s that top-down homogenous development schema don’t meet the diverse “needs? of people. There is an important human element of sustainability that speaks to cultural sustainability, which means supporting the conditions for people to prosper, self-actualize and nurture their distinct world views, knowledge pathways and art. Right livelihood is a key indicator of cultural sustainability. Increasingly people around the world are understanding that ecological wellbeing is best achieved in tandem with assuring right livelihood for the people who are in greatest direct contact with those ecosystems.

In the case of San Francisco, a city whose identity is partly crafted around the Dungeness Crab, Fisherman’s Wharf and the best wild Salmon on the Pacific Coast, the century old fishing community is eroding. Most of the remaining fishers out of the SF Bay are older and there are few young people entering the tradition as it becomes increasingly difficult to make a living from the sea. A lot of that has to do with aggregate supply/demand economics that are favoring the larger distribution companies who determine the price per pound of fish. As these companies spread up and down the coast, they are able to control not just the local – but the bioregional price for fish – and this is forcing more and more independent fishers out of business from San Francisco and north along the coast to Washington. The net impact for the Bay Area is a loss of a right livelihood, a unique cultural expression of San Francisco and an important piece of the local living economy. The fishers I have met are an amazing group of people – they are the last hunters in the wild. Their work is incredibly dangerous and they work in often miserable conditions. They have amazing stories to tell about the sea, changes in the ecosystem and they carry with them an oral history of the Bay Area that few of us living here are ever privileged to hear.

There is a huge amount of support by local restaurateurs and retailers for local and sustainably caught seafood in San Francisco. Many of the top restaurants in San Francisco adhere to standards for seafood purchases outlined by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program or have adopted other sustainability guidelines. Many prefer locally caught seafood simply because it tastes better! It is great to see chefs making a difference by connecting their menus to the seasons and ecologies that they live in. There are also local seafood distributors that have done an excellent job of staying abreast of critical ocean ecosystem issues and promoting sustainable and local seafood to their customers like Monterey Fish Market (read their statement about sustainability here). One of the most innovative offerings I have learned about in terms of bioregional food offerings to date is Google Café 150 whose entire menu comes from within 150 miles of the restaurant! And of course there is the ever popular Chez Panisse in berkeley, who has been an innovator in connecting local people to local food producers for years.

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