Active Listening in Action

Sonia - August 15, 2022

A while ago, I shared with you some of my reflections after a month of active listening on the topic of Indigenous/ non-Indigenous fishing relations. Little did I know, that work would shape the year ahead in profound ways, helping us articulate the purpose and vision of Skipper Otto, and guiding our everyday decision-making. And so now, after a few years of our Active Listening project, I wanted to share some concrete examples of what that work has led to so far, and what we’re excited about going forward.

Since our very beginnings in 2008, we designed Skipper Otto to confront entrenched problems in the seafood system. We knew that our greatest strength lay in the personal, meaningful relationships we’d built in our community, and that we had an important role to play in building bridges between diverse groups of people. Last year, through the pandemic and rising social justice movements, the significance of these relationships came into even sharper focus. Through the work of active listening, we realized that, although members of our community come from diverse backgrounds with different perspectives, we share the common objective of building a just and equitable food system. And that this objective is so beautifully realized in Skipper Otto because of the unique commitments and contributions of each of the five groups that make up our community — fishing families, members, governments, the Skipper Otto team, and other shoreside businesses. We captured these realizations in a Theory of Change around this idea that when groups of people come together with a shared objective and commit specific contributions to realizing that objective, that’s when real social change happens.

I began to explore this theory with members of the five groups that make up our community as well as with academics, community leaders, and Indigenous elders. This exploration helped us articulate that one of the unique contributions that Skipper Otto makes to building a just and equitable seafood system is our commitment to listening, learning, and creating a space for collaboration and co-creation. And for the past year, we’ve used that realization to help us decide what to do next. 

Now that was a whole lot of theorizing and big ideas, so let’s bring it down to some real concrete examples of how a year of active listening, relationship building, and collaborating materialized in the day-to-day operations of Skipper Otto.


Spot Prawn Advocacy

You may remember in March of 2020, prawn harvesters brought to our attention a sudden DFO reinterpretation of the Fisheries General Regulation that would outlaw the 50-year-old practice of tailing, tubbing, and freezing spot prawns at sea with only a couple of months until the season opened. We quickly recognized the devastating effects this change would have on harvesters in our coastal communities who would lose their best markets for prawns, and for Canadian consumers who would lose access to this beautiful sustainable seafood option. You can read here for more about how we addressed this challenge, all the press coverage, the massive response from our members to signing our petitions, the swift and decisive response from members of the House of Commons, and the ultimate reversal of the decision that resulted in January 2022! This work was such an important illustration of what it looks like to listen, build relationships, connect communities, and advocate for justice and equity, and exemplifies what communities can achieve when we band together.


New Fishing Families

Active listening also connected us with many new communities of fishers over the years and has given us new opportunities to realize our vision for a just and equitable seafood system:

  • As you may have read, my active listening work led me to a wonderful friendship with multi-generational Tseshaht fisher, Jocelyn Dick who warmly welcomed me into her community, taught us all about economic opportunity fisheries, and bravely co-created new ways for us to support fishing families in her community. We welcomed many new Tseshaht and Hupačasath fishing families to the Skipper Otto community and we’ve truly enjoyed getting to know and work with them.
  • Deepening relationships also introduced me to Thao Le Nguyen, a multi-generational Vietnamese fisher, who grew up prawning with her dad on Vancouver Island. Thao worked with us to build systems so that her father could begin tailing, tubbing, and freezing his spot prawns to access a good price and share his fascinating life story with Skipper Otto members
  • More reading, listening, and relationship-building introduced me to Inuit ice fishers Darryl Siusangnark and Simon Qamanirq and their pursuit of fair markets for their beautiful lake-caught Arctic char. As a result, we’ve co-created ways to connect these fishers to our members and fair prices for their traditionally harvested catch. We bought as much Arctic char from Darryl and Simon as we could before the spring thaw, and now that the ice is thick enough to fish again, we’ll soon have their delicious catch in store for members again throughout the winter ahead. We’re also excited to be collaborating with them this year on gathering scientific data to allow DFO to open more opportunities for licensed commercial fisheries in Canada’s far north. 
  • Since 2019, we’ve been mentoring Bretton Hills, a marine biologist and young new entrant to BC’s oyster farming industry. Bretton launched her business in 2021 and we’ve continued to work with her to overcome regulatory hurdles to get her product market-ready. Bretton’s innovation has made her flash-frozen oysters available to all our members across Canada!
  • Over the past 2 years we’ve expanded our relationship with Randy Kitagawa and his multi-generational fishing family based on the Sunshine Coast. They helped us understand the challenges that harvesters from rural communities face with getting their live and frozen product to fair markets. Together we brainstormed ways to bring their prawns and dungeness crab to our members and we’re excited to continue collaborating and innovating with them!


Building software and the proliferation of the model

One of the wonderful things about active listening is that it soon takes on a life of its own and new opportunities are constantly arising! In early 2021, Skipper Otto received a BC Agritech grant to build a unique software platform to help connect food producers and consumers using the Skipper Otto model. We’re excited not only to launch this software for the Skipper Otto community in fall 2022, but to use this software to proliferate our model for building innovative, just, and equitable food systems throughout Canada and around the world. And word has been spreading. We’ve had great talks with folks in local BC farms and ranches, CSFs in the USA, hunters in the Inuit community of Taloyoak, as well as folks in Europe, Nicaragua, and beyond about how our model and our software might help them innovate food security solutions in their communities. We can’t wait to support these communities in their food systems innovations in 2023 and beyond, and we will share their stories with you as they unfold.

We’re grateful to have you as part of our journey to building a just and equitable seafood system, and to using Skipper Otto to restore relationships and redesign a better world centred around justice, equity, and reconciliation.

Sonia - August 15, 2022

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Active Listening in Action

Sonia - August 15, 2022

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