I was born into one of Ireland's first families of surf on the NW coast of Ireland in Donegal so you could say salt-water is in the blood. My parents named me after their favourite wave, the famous west coast break, which translates to 'fish' in Irish. My life has revolved around my love for the ocean – it has given me my motivation and direction and is my lens to focus with. It even influenced my decision to complete my PhD on human wellbeing and coastal resilience last year in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Ulster, and to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship through Memorial University in Canada with ‘Too Big To Ignore‘ (TBTI) in 2013. The ‘Too Big To Ignore’ (TBTI) is a global research partnership that aims at elevating the profile of small-scale fisheries (SSF) around the world. I always wanted to get under the surface of the ocean and that is what has led my life in this direction.
TBTI recognises the importance of small scale fisheries (SSF) in Europe and globally for the employment and welfare they provide, as well as their role in developing a future in which environmental sustainability, food sovereignty and community wellbeing stand centre stage.
Although ‘small’ when considered at a regional or national scale, the benefits of SSF in coastal communities can be big. Opportunities are emerging such as the development of SSF labels emphasized in the new European Union Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF); SSF will be able to access funds for direct marketing.
There is a real need to re-establish our connection to local fisheries, to celebrate small-scale producers, broaden seafood tastes, learn what fish is in season and check its traceability – Where has it come from? How was it caught? And imagine if we knew who caught it, what their story is and what the fishing way of life means to them?
I try to engage more with those in my local fishing community – build relationships with the fish monger, go down to the harbour and ask questions, try to learn the ‘story’ of the seafood, and have greater mindfulness and awareness for the food I put in my mouth! I think relationships are vital – bringing consumers back into the picture.
In my experience as a researcher interested in the connections between people and the sea I get to meet a lot of amazing characters whose lives have been shaped by their relationship with the sea. One retired fisherman I met in North Donegal had lived some 80 years ‘married’ to the sea. He has since passed away which makes the knowledge he shared all the more precious:
Years ago, its long gone, but people threw fish up at your feet at the pier as you walked along or you could go over and lift a bag of shellfish off a boat. It should still be like that, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t still be like that.
It's not just the fishermen who will be affected (by the cumulative impacts of increasingly restrictive regulations) but the whole community that revolves around that, the fabricators, engineers, processing plants, restaurants, tourism. And a real lament for what has been lost and what could have been, but now never will – a thriving fishing community attracting visitors for the good food and maritime traditions and culture unique to Ireland.
(George Clarke, Greencastle, 2009).