Friday, April 13, 2012

What My Food ISN'T Worth: Supporting Local Lobster Fisher-People

(EcoYogini shares a little bit of her hometown lobster love, previously loved post from November 2011 and her favourite lobster chowder recipe!)

This isn't a blog post about veganism or vegetarianism, but about what my food ISN'T worth.

My food has never been worth slave labour. Often products such as coffee, sugar and chocolate are named when discussing human right violations, terrible working conditions, slave and child labour and polluting cultivation practices. Similar discussions surround farming, with purchasing directly from your farmer assuring that your food has been purchased for a fair price.

This isn't news to most here in Nova Scotia. Despite this province's tendency towards traditionalism and conservative views, the slow food and local movement is making some pretty significant headway. The farmer's markets are booming and 'Buy Local' movements are getting a lot of press, it's great.

(This video is of a local fisherman making the best of a rough situation- hilarious to watch, especially as I've always heard of the crazy things they did while out on the ocean. As you can see, if the rope from the traps pulled him over he's not wearing his floatersuit... most don't. I'm also fairly certain this wouldn't be considered a "rough" day on the water. Also, he's married to a girl I went to highschool with!)

(My brother on top of my dad's boat loading up the pots on "Dumping Day" 2010)

Interestingly enough, with the start of District 34's lobstering season (end of November to end of May), which provides 60% of the global lobster industry, the 'fair price' logic hasn't connected. As a fisherman's daughter, I grew up eating lobster. Yes, I know I was lucky, but let me tell you, we were never rich. There is this strange misconception in the Atlantic provinces that lobster fishermen from District 34 are well-off. Perhaps there are a few, but they are far between and definitely not the norm.

(Boats at my dad's warf- all owned by my childhood village neighbours. You can see the size difference between my dad's boat and these. My dad fishes inshore, from 3am-5pm. The larger boats steam offshore and will stay there for several days)

Due to the proliferation of lobsters in this area of ocean, it is not easy nor cheap to become a fisherman. Firstly, there's purchasing a boat. Ranging anywhere from 200-500,000$ depending on where you'd like to fish (inside or steaming far outside). Then there's the license, which also costs another couple hundred thousand. You need to hire at least one other person (if not more) to help, minimum 100$ a day. Fuel costs a fortune and don't forget the traps (or 'pots' as their called home). Over 100$ each, with about 400 per boat, often they need replacing during the year.

Beyond this, these fisher-people fish during the harshest season of the year- winter. With winds, snow and sleet, leaving the warf at 3 or 4am to work all day and return after supper, (or stay out for days at a time), it isn't an easy life. Too many have lost their lives in that ocean, with riptides and currents assuring that bodies are never found. Unlike other districts, winter waters mean hypothermia in minutes followed by death. Families and communities never forget this risk.
(A local boat, the Hunter Madison, sinking earlier this week. Thankfully all crewmen were safely rescued. Even though it was a very calm morning, the boat didn't take long to sink....)

This year the season started with a price of 3$ or less a pound. In District 34, most fishermen belong to a co-op at their warf to whom they sell their lobsters. The co-op then sells to buyers, who sell to businesses and ship around the world (including the States, a few years back there was some tension from Maine buyers purchasing Nova Scotia lobsters and labelling them "Maine lobsters").

For most fishermen, there aren't enough lobsters to justify a price of 3$/lb; it costs more to catch the lobsters than they're worth. Unfortunately, most fishermen are too indebted to change careers. With a boat, license, mortgage and house loans their only option is to keep fishing.

I don't know about you, but any lobster I eat, special occasion or no, restaurant or no, will never be worth unfair wages paid to fishermen who risk their lives every day to provide us with a delicious delicacy.

Instead of blindly purchasing your lobster this year, here are a few tips that you can do to help support the fishermen of District 34 (and around the world):

  • Whenever possible, buy directly from the fisherman and pay a decent price (at least 5$ if not more).
  • If that's not an option, but you live in Halifax, Pete's Frootique purchases their lobsters for a fair price directly from a fishermen in Cape Sable Island. 
  • Not in Halifax? Before purchasing ask where the lobsters come from. Voice your concern with regards to the pricing and purchasing practices of buyers. Ask to know what price the original buyer (not the grocery store) paid the fishermen for the lobsters. 
  • Group together with friends who also want lobsters and contact fishermen or co-ops in Nova Scotia to see whether a larger order could justify a trip to the city. People often know people coming up to the city this time of year. 
  • If you can afford it, be willing to pay a bit more for fairly priced lobsters. They're a luxury item and as a result worth a few extra dollars to assure you're not contributing to the destruction of an entire community of fishermen and their families.
If you are eating lobster- check out some tips on shelling and cooking with my favourite lobster chowder recipe!

Living mindfully is so much more than just the obvious. This year my lobster will be fairly priced and worth every penny.


CallieK said...

My brother treated me to live lobster last weekend- he paid $34 for 2, both just about 1.5 lbs. Now we are in Toronto so shipping adds the majority to the costs but it's horrifying to think that the person who actually caught them received about 25% of we paid for them.

Julia said...

$3 per pound! that's nothing. i get lobster a couple times a year from directly from the fisherman at my farmers market for $8 a pound, which i still think is a steal and don't mind paying, since it would cost me twice as much at a restaurant. thanks for always reminding people about the issues of lobster fishing.

Eco Yogini said...

@CallieK and Julia: Sigh, I wish they got 8$ a lb! There used to be a day when they did. The really sad part is that there is a market for lobster, and buyers are selling for a ridiculous markup (which, many buyers have their own shipping mechanisms- typically in transport trucks on ice) but the people who are doing the actual work aren't seeing any of it.
I'm just happy my dad broke even this year (as opposed to last year.... :( )

Rosa said...

This sounds typical of all the extractive industries - the people doing the hard work don't make the money, though they bear most of the risk. And debt/capital costs trap them even when the price doesn't really justify the labor, or worse, when the timber/fish/topsoil is being depleted so fast we'd be better off if most of them stopped.

I've been seeing this bumper sticker around lately: BUY LOCAL EVERYWHERE * local * fair wage * fair trade. But it's really hard for those of us so far away to know what the conditions are like.
Thank you for the info, I didn't know anything about lobstering.

Eco Yogini said...

@Rosa: yep, the only difference is that lobster fishermen aren't subsidized by the government because lobster is considered a 'luxary' item. Which is definitely too bad, since it's one of the main fishery industry in the province.


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