Swimming On: the North America Slow Fish gathering from 2016 to 2020
by Colles Stowell, President of One Fish Foundation and Slow Fish Core Planning Team
The inaugural Slow Fish event in North America took place in New Orleans in 2016. It was an enormous first step, fraught with last-minute adaptation forced by a 500-year flood event in a city that is rather accustomed to flooding. Who knew we’d be eating shrimp and oysters in a warehouse full of floats from perhaps the most raunchy Mardi Gras parade in the city? Nothing says seafood like having every part of outsized human anatomy in lewd, brightly decorated papier-mâché looming over you.
But we made it work! Everyone adapted to the unforeseen circumstances and we had great conversations about consolidation, youth in fisheries and overall messaging and values. We capped Slow Fish 2016 off with an incredible Cajun hog harvest celebration called a “boucherie” across the Mississippi River.
We gathered in San Francisco for Slow Fish 2018 following an intense, but amazingly productive four-month planning period that was delayed by the threat and lingering angst of devastating forest fires in the region. But for the commitment, creativity, and sheer will of everyone involved, Slow Fish San Francisco wouldn’t have happened. That gathering made space for fabulous networking, collective problem-solving, and energy dedicated to shared values for our seas and their stewards.
The San Francisco event took place in a cool warehouse (no sex floats) that we adapted to suit large group discussions, as well as smaller World Café roundtables and PechaKucha (or “Peche” Kucha) mini slide presentations/stories. We also had a Seafood Throwdown, off-site oyster, dinner, and movie events..
Fast forward two years and that energy is still strong. This year, Slow Fish 2020 will go down on March 19-22 in Seacoast N.H., with a Working Waterfront Tour, kick-off dinner, Sunday Fishtival and the programming of a two-day conference at the University of New Hampshire Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics in Durham.
Circling back to Slow Fish USA origins on campus
We chose New England for 2020 to continue varying the geography of these events and give fish harvesters, fishmongers, and others from the region a chance to engage in these conversations.
New Hampshire is important because students at UNH were among the first in the country to embrace Slow Fish values back in 2013. At the time, they encouraged UNH Dining Services to sign a pact to source responsibly harvested seafood and adhere to Slow Fish values. That pact is still in effect today. Bringing the conference to New Hampshire this year affirms how much the movement has grown in the years since and the importance of youth in the movement.
Rallying young people is especially important in New England as fish harvesters here are fighting against restrictive policies and well-funded efforts to consolidate the industry. This monopolization has created impossibly high barriers of entry for young fishermen and led to an ever-increasing age of the average fisherman, often called the “graying of the fleet.”
Moving the event around to key fisheries regions helps democratize the impact. Slow Fish continues to aim to create an open table for meaningful thinking around the core values of providing good, clean, and fair seafood to all.
At a time when equity, inclusion, and justice issues are increasingly visible, Slow Fish aims to ensure that small-scale and indigenous fish harvesters have fair access to the resource in a market too often dominated by billion-dollar corporations that only care about profits.
We’re going to talk about these and other critical issues in New Hampshire this year. For the first time, we’re going to merge the Slow Fish North America gathering and a regional Slow Food Northeast event, allowing members of both groups to get a better sense of how each group is working to shorten the distance from food source to plate.
Here is a sneak peek of what’s on tap for Slow Fish 2020, and why you should consider joining the conversation:
- Deep Dive discussions on issues like aquaculture, climate change, and the Blue Commons;
- Interactive World Café roundtables to explore challenges and opportunities facing youth, women, and indigenous fish harvesters; alternative seafood business leaders; and the Slow Fish Ark of Taste;
- “Pesce” Kucha storytelling with slides;
- Delicious food from all over the continent;
- Tour of the seacoast N.H. working waterfront followed by an opening night feast;
- Seacoast Restaurant Fish Week from Feb. 13 through Feb. 21 (restaurants in Seacoast NH and Maine provide a special Slow Fish menu and donate a portion of proceeds to Slow Fish);
- Closing dinner event with music at the Paul College at UNH;
- Fishtival on Sunday at Throwback Brewery (more food, music, beer, and hands-on demonstrations);
- Several hands-on demonstrations of nose-to-tail, oyster shucking, etc.
- A chance to dig into issues, collaborate, and kick it with old and new friends.
I can tell you first-hand that we are planning this year’s gathering with as much, if not more energy and drive as with NOLA and San Fran, and hopefully without any major and unexpected meteorological or other events.
So come join the conversation, expand your network, make new friends, hug old friends, eat fabulous food, and see what the New England Slow Fish and Slow Food communities have to offer!
Registration for Slow Fish 2020 events is now open! Use code ‘EARLYFISH’ for $50 off the conference fee until February 7.