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with Paula Barbeito, Slow Fish International Coordinator
Photos by Giselle Kennedy Lord and Alessandor Vargiu

Slow Fish has always been about bringing together everyone from casual seafood lovers to those who have dedicated their life to our fishy-friends and their habitats. Paula Barbeito easily falls into this latter category, having been practically born into a love and dedication to everything ocean-related. Raised on a small Spanish promontory in Galicia, her studies in oceanography and sustainability took her from Latin America to Germany and eventually to Genoa, Italy where she came across Slow Fish International in 2017. Over the past few years, she has been deeply involved in coordinating the international gathering and working to support small-scale fisherfolks and their communities protect their right to fish.

As we come up on our first ever virtual Slow Fish gathering, organized by Slow Fish North America, Paula told us about her adventures with fisherwomen in Morocco, the future of Slow Fish International and more…

What does the concept of “Slow Fish” mean to you?

Relationships among the seafood value chain: know your fish, know your fisherman, know your fishmonger. By building these relationships among the value chain, we build trust, we discover the tastes of the tides, the waves, the oceans… and we learn about how to restore the way we relate to our ocean—that is—our culture.

Do you have a favorite memory from Slow Fish gatherings of the past?

I have many, but one of my favorites takes me back to the 6th edition of “Slow Fish Tigri,” and the mussel festival of the village of Sidi Bounouar (a rural village of Aglou, Province of Tiznit, located on the Atlantic coast of Morocco).

Born in 2013, the event is now very popular and brings many benefits to the villagers; all families are active and the women begin preparations well in advance to ensure sufficient quantities of mussels. They are the ones who collect them, clean them, store them and cook them. It is a very long, difficult and dangerous job. The women fish on the rocks at the edge of the ocean, where they are sometimes knocked over by the waves; they walk back and forth, carrying the weight of the bucket full of mussels; they are often forced to sell them at a low price, on the roadside.

In these times of sea crises (climate change, overfishing, population growth), and while shellfish harvesting is generally done indiscriminately, this group of people is trying to raise awareness about the problems of the sea and fishing, and trying to value the work of fisherwomen (also economically) through this festival. They make sure that the mussels used in the festival are harvested in full respect of the rules of social and environmental sustainability: they must be at least 6 cm long and are brushed on the spot to remove the small mussels and give them time to grow in the sea. They are also bought from the fisherwomen at a fair price.

This festival consists of four days of celebration around mussels, cous-cous and women.  In the last edition in 2019, the women took me to one of their houses and dressed me in their traditional clothes. I was covered with different colored fabrics and my face was covered with Berber jewelry, they made tattoos on my skin and while they were preparing me, they recited their traditional songs. It was beautiful!

Can you tell us about the Slow Fish International event in 2019, and can we expect more in the future?

That event was called “Sea: A Common Good.” It was a crucial moment for the international network to discuss about the threats that Blue Economy poses to coastal communities. The event was a mix of activities: we had 4 days face to face discussions in internal meetings with the network; a best practices arena to talk to the general public about traceability initiatives, gender in fisheries, and screenings of beautiful films. There were several taste workshops around seafood—a fish market with olive oil and salt producers too, and a food truck area. The Japanese delegation grilled some fish in their traditional way, and it was fantastic!

We are now working on the next edition that will take place June 3-6 of this year, but of course Covid restrictions will limit the variety of things that we can do.

What has it been like from your perspective to move everything, including Terra Madre and now Slow Fish, online? Do you think the future holds more virtual events, or do we lose too much from that?

Well, I think it has been a challenge for everybody. The magic of events such as Terra Madre or Slow Fish relies on the emotions you get when you exchange your opinion on an issue and feel the gaze and sense the body language of the person in front of you.

With the events transforming into something mostly virtual, you still have the connections, but it doesn’t work in the same way, it doesn’t move you the same way. But hey! At least we can connect with each other, we can chat with each other. I think it’s important to keep the network connected and active. The pandemic is not going to last forever and when it’s over, we will have a lot to celebrate!

Regarding the future, I hope we can do more in-person events. We spend more and more time in front of the computer (events, smart-working, films, series, etc.) and I think this is not good for our brains, our bodies or our souls. Virtual meetings are no substitute, they are transitory things we have to do to keep things moving, but the power relies in face-to-face gatherings!