At this point in this blog’s history, most of my fisheries knowledge is centered on the United States, Eastern Canada to an extent and also the better known species in Europe. However, the region I must admit the most ignorance is India. Such a huge and populous country with a rich fishing heritage along the coast, but I know much more about places like Vietnam and China, since those products are very common here in the States. It’s more embarrasing since I took classes in Raj era and modern India in college.
Regardless of what fishing region we are talking about, one thing is almost always true: Fishermen usually are paid paltry sums in comparison to what that fish costs the consumer. It is the nature of the retail beast to give any product a markup as it moves along the supply chain. However with concerns about sustainability and overfishing, market forces that demand more seafood, and meagre “boat prices” that encourage huge landings, it is easy to see how we get into trouble.
If fishermen bring in fish that get anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars per pound, they naturally have to bring in more of them… just to cover the expenses of the trip, let alone a profit. Growing up in Gloucester that is what we would call a “broke trip” or a “broker.” When the value of the fish you caught cannot pay for the fuel, food, ice, gear and the various other expenses of a typical trip. The crew obviously do not earn a dime but in the worst-case scenarios the crew actually had to pay out of pocket to compensate.
My opinion is that if fishermen could get a little more money for their catch, with incentives to go after abundant underutilized species, they would earn more from catching less. Tight quotas could still be enforced, but everyone makes a living wage.
When I think of the term fair trade I usually think coffee…expensive coffee. But back when I was a coffee snob I’d shell out a little more to get the good stuff. So when I learned about a fair trade fish retailer in India, I had to find out more.
Fish Chain’s website states that by the end of the year over 200 fishing villages will be part of their network. If it all works as they say, then this could be a real win-win for traditional fishing communities as well as consumers. It could also work as a model for other regions to enact similar fair trade fisheries.