By Garland Mason
In March, my friend Katherine Carscallen came to visit me in Vermont. Katherine and I hadn’t seen each other since we spent our semester abroad together six years prior. Katherine was visiting from the town of Dillingham on southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Katherine, born into a Bristol Bay fishing family, now works as the captain of her own salmon-fishing boat during the summer and as an activist in opposition to the Pebble Mine in the off-season. The Pebble Mine is a proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine that would potentially destroy Bristol Bay’s fishery. During her visit I was struck by the similarity of our work, advocating for sustainable livelihoods for food producers (fisherman and farmers, respectively) and of the sustainability of our food system as a whole.
Katherine’s brief visit to Vermont was a detour from her trip to the New England coastline where she had travelled to garner support against the development of the Pebble Mine. The proposed mine is sited directly within the most pristine wild salmon hatchery in the world, the hatchery that also happens to supply Katherine’s fishery and her family’s livelihood. Katherine was here to advocate for food justice, meeting with fellow fishermen from Rhode Island to Maine, learning about the issues their fisheries face and building solidarity and a network of support between the coasts.
I usually make it a priority to know where my food comes from and usually that means either producing it myself or buying it from a local farmer. For certain cravings though, sourcing local just isn’t possible—think coffee, tea, chocolate, citrus, and of course, seafood. For these foods and many other popular “essentials” that require either a tropical climate or a coastline, we have to look beyond Vermont’s borders. But that doesn’t mean sourcing anonymous food from who-knows-where.
In the case of seafood, it’s almost as easy to know your fisherman as it is to know your farmer. In thinking twice about where your seafood comes from, we can help advocates like Katherine in promoting sustainable fisheries and sustainable livelihoods for fishing families. By buying sustainably caught fish we can advocate against large corporations taking over what was once a community-run fishery, we can advocate against the construction of a mine that would destroy one of the most pristine wild salmon fisheries in the world, and we can ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy seafood as we have.
Did you know that there are two fish markets within Rutland City limits? The Saltwater Cowboy on Route 7 offers wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, the type that Katherine and her family catch in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, along with a list of other wild caught seafood. Another fish market, Green Mountain Fresh, opened its doors to seafood-seekers of Rutland County in December of 2012.
I caught up with Ingrid Wissel, a Shrewsbury native and one of the Green Mountain Fresh’s owners, to find out more about the endeavor. The market is designed to offer the freshest product possible, which means ordering in advance and coming in to the market to pick up the seafood on a Friday afternoon. She emphasized that freshness is essential to good seafood and it is equally important to know how seafood is grown as it is any other food we eat, be it beef, poultry or produce. Wissel also told me that most of the seafood species her market carries have some sort of sustainability certification, that farmed seafood carries the seal of “Best Aquaculture Practices” (BAP) or is approved by the “Institute for Marketecology” (IMO).
Farmed fish is a controversial issue, Wissel conceded, but noted that “wild caught seafood is not intrinsically sustainable and there are farm-raised seafood systems that are sustainable.” If you’re concerned about where your seafood comes from and how it was harvested an easy way to check is by consulting the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch website, they even offer a handy pocket guide and smartphone app so you can check on-the-go. An industry recognized standard for sustainability, the Monterey Bay Aquarium categorizes seafood into “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives” and “Avoid.” Among the best choices category is the Atlantic swordfish and Alaskan salmon available at the Saltwater Cowboy and the wild cod and farm-raised tilapia available from Green Mountain Fresh. Bristol Bay Salmon, a “Best Choice” is also available frozen at the Rutland Co-op.
In taking a harder look at where our food comes and “voting with our dollar” we can ensure the sustainability of both the people who grow and harvest our food, and of the environment in which our food is grown. Whether it is supporting the vitality of Alaska’s Bristol Bay fishing community in choosing wild-caught Alaskan salmon, or strengthening our local economy by supporting small local farms, we, as individuals, have the power to change our food system from a corporate-owned, money-driven model, into a system that supports local economies across the globe and environmental sustainability on a global scale.
To find the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s buying guide and app, go to: www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx
Garland Mason works for the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, heading up the New Farmer Initiative and Farm-to-School and Institution activities. She lives and farms in West Tinmouth, Vermont.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.