Sonia - July 28, 2014
Do you remember the summer of 2010? The Fraser and Adams River sockeye returns were all over the headlines “Record Salmon Returns” “Biggest return in 100 years!” And as you may know, sockeye spawn on a 4-year cycle. So, that means, barring any unforeseen disasters, this year should be a huge year for sockeye salmon returning to the Fraser . . .
If you were a member of our CSF that summer, you may remember what it was like late in the season that year. It was only our 2nd season running the CSF so we were pretty small with just about 200 members. Because of the bountiful return, we offered a free sockeye to any member who came to our year-end BBQ. And 200 people showed up! Shaun and I laughed about how suddenly we were hosting a BBQ with twice the number of guests than came to our own wedding and we were doing it in the fishermen’s wharf parking lot with very little preparation and our then-two-year-old Oliver running circles around everyone! It was a riot. There were line-ups and crowds, and yet everyone was kind, thoughtful, and patient. It was an amazing celebration of the bounty of the sea and the bounty of humanity that had gathered around to support small-scale fishermen and environmentally sustainable fishing. It gave us energy to move forward with the CSF.
Fast forward 4 years. We now have over 1000 CSF member families supporting 15 independent fishermen. And the predictions for 2014 are still holding strong. We still anticipate that this late August may be a repeat of 2010 and so we’re hoping to be able to offer some kind of special thank you to our members if that’s the case. (1000 people at a bbq and 1000 free fish is a bit out of the question, but we’ll figure something out that can work!)
But something to keep in mind is that the bountiful return of sockeye in 2010 did not mean that fishermen got rich. In fact, the grounds price for sockeye dropped from $3.50/lb to 0.90c/ lb when the cost to catch those fish remained the same and fuel prices continued to rise. The few old men still working as independent fishermen out worked days and nights to try to bring in a good catch, hand picking each and every fish out of their nets, and then were paid a pittance for those fish, barely covering costs.
Fishermen who attempted to market their own fish were faced with another challenge – there was now a shortage of processing space and cold storage space. If you refused to sell to the buyer for 0.90c/ lb, you might be left sitting at the wharf trying to sell your fish before they rotted. Fishermen were dropping their prices like crazy: down at the wharf in Steveston, you could hear them calling “$10 for a whole sockeye salmon!” The public clamoured to get these cheap sockeye salmon, celebrating what a great deal they were able to get. But the sad side of those deals that many people neglected to consider was that the good deal for them meant that a fisherman was so desperate to recoup at least some of the cost of catching that fish and he or she had not alternative but to dump the fish at below cost. To me, this wasn’t something to celebrate.
So, this year, we are trying to position ourselves to be able to help as many independent fishermen as possible in advance of what may be a huge sockeye return. We want people to understand that desperate fishermen offloading fish at unreasonably low prices at the dock is really a sign of a broken food system. That a bountiful sockeye return should mean that the hard working fishermen who use sustainable practices to bring in that harvest for all of us should be paid a fair living wage.
At Skipper Otto’s we are already becoming an agent of change on the fishing grounds. We consistently pay $1-$1.50/lb more for fish than the other buyers. And if these sockeye return in the numbers predicted, we will continue to do that, offering fishermen a fair price for their fish. We are working hard to build relationships with ethical customers and buyers across Canada so that, if those fish do return in huge numbers, we will have found fair-trade buyers for as many fishermen as we can so they are not left sitting on the docks with rotting fish being sold to customers for pennies.
So keep your eyes and ears open for news of that big sockeye return, and help us spread the word that ethical prices for that bounty of seafood is a sign of the times changing for the better.
Sonia - July 28, 2014
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Sonia - July 28, 2014