Four fishing boats in a harbour outside a wooden fishing shed.

Exploring Community Stories About “Fish as Food”

August 2018

Written by Kristen Lowitt

In May 2018, members of the FLEdGE Northwestern Ontario Research Node hosted a “fish as food” roundtable session at the Community Conservation and Livelihoods Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The session featured community stories on “fish as food” from the Northwest Territories to Nova Scotia. Collectively, the stories illustrate the importance of not seeing fisheries solely as an assortment of fish harvesters or fish stocks, but as part of larger food systems that provide for community sustenance, cultures, and economies. Co-organized by Kristen Lowitt and Charles Levkoe, the session builds on their ongoing FLEdGE research exploring the links between sustainable fisheries and food systems in the Lake Superior region of Northwestern Ontario.

We were honoured to begin the session with a presentation from Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nation who spoke about the close interconnections among fishing, food, trade, and culture to his people. For the Batchewana First Nation, fishing not only provides important food and livelihood needs, but is an act of exercising jurisdiction over the food system in their traditional territory. Asserting their Inherent and Aboriginal and Treaty rights, Batchewana First Nation has rejected settler state authority and manages their own fishery rooted in traditional ecological knowledge and developed in alignment with oral teachings and responsibilities.

Four presenters sitting at table in front of presentation screen.
From left: Chief Dean Sayers, Andrew Spring, Patty Williams, and Colleen Turlo.

Following Chief Sayers presentation, FLEdGE member Andrew Spring shared his research undertaken with the community of Kakisa in the Northwest Territories. Home to the Ka’a’gee Tu First Nation, fish is a vital component of the community’s diet and fishing maintains cultural ties to the land and water. However, community members are concerned about the threats to the ecosystem and food security posed by climate change. Andrew highlighted the importance of combining science and traditional knowledge in fostering adaptive strategies. More on Andrew’s work can be found in this recent article in Canadian Food Studies.

Patty Williams of the Food Action Research Centre (FoodARC) at Mount Saint Vincent University was our next presenter. She emphasized the importance of participatory action research as a framework for engaging and supporting communities in their efforts to achieve sustainable food systems. Growing up on the south coast of Nova Scotia, Patty was excited to share results from a recent FoodARC study assessing the role of the regional lobster fishery in community food systems. A participatory video emerging from the project called ‘Our Lobster, Our Communities’ can be viewed here.

Lastly, Colleen Turlo from the Marine Team at the Ecology Action Centre provided insights on sustainability seafood rankings and shared experiences about liaising with retailers and industry on their sustainable seafood procurement and policies through the SeaChoice program. She also identified some of the regulatory gaps that hinder more integrated “fish as food” policy.

Moving forward, our goal as a research team is to continue working with communities to address the social and ecological justice issues that emerge at the intersection of food systems and fisheries and, more broadly, to encourage food systems thinking in discussions of fisheries, governance, and related policies. We hope that this session will serve as the basis for compiling more community stories tied to “fish as food,” and that these stories may assist in brokering new connections among communities and identifying some of the common challenges that might be addressed through social and policy change.

For more information on fisheries and food sovereignty, please see our article in Marine Policy. Also stay tuned for a forthcoming chapter we are publishing in the book Small-Scale Fisheries Governance: Transdisciplinary Analysis and Practices produced by the Too Big Too Ignore Global Partnership for Small-Scale Fisheries Research.

For more information about this project contact Kristen Lowitt, Brandon University at lowittk@brandonu.ca or Charles Levkoe, Lakehead University at clevkoe@lakeheadu.ca