Educating New England consumers about a place-based approach to sustainable seafood
It’s easy to feel lost when grappling with the complex issue of seafood sustainability. Sarah Schumann’s TogetherGreen project imparts local consumers with a new kind of compass for finding the way to compassionate seafood choices: one that is holistic and place-based. Her fellowship project, entitled "Eating with the Ecosystem,” is a marine conservation initiative with a habitat and species conservation goal. It builds on the sustainable seafood movement, but provides a way to educate consumers about the effects of their choices on specific, nearby ecosystems (as opposed to global).
Sarah's career has been devoted to seeing marine commerce and environmental vitality exist synergistically. As a commercial fisherwoman and passionate grassroots environmentalist, she tirelessly seeks to build bridges among the commercial fishing industry, environmental advocates, and the public.
For Sarah’s TogetherGreen fellowship project, she created a new endeavor designed to take on sustainable seafood – one that goes beyond thinking of individual commercial fish species in isolation and looks at the whole ecosystem in its entirety, including the habitat that commercial wild fish species depend on. A total of ten dinners took place in Rhode Island and the Boston area during the fellowship period. Each dinner featured one of New England’s marine ecosystems – Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Southern New England waters. At the dinners, chefs converted a wide variety of seasonal seafood items from the featured ecosystem into an elaborate and creative meal, while two special guests – a marine ecologist and a commercial fisherman – presented their expertise to attendees. Dinners were open to the public, and attendees were recruited through word of mouth, press releases, social media, Green drinks and other social events, and tabling at farmers’ markets.
This project educated the public about these threats and helped them see the connection between these threats and something tangible: delicious seafood. Presenters at the dinners placed a strong emphasis on the effects of ocean acidification on shellfish and base-of-the-food-chain organisms and on the effects of climate change on the geographical ranges and migration patterns of commercial fish species. Guests were provided this information over the course of a community-building dinner experience, which opened their eyes to the relevance of these threats to the local fishing industry and the seafood that is a core part of New England culture and identity. These dinners also helped galvanize interest in a new approach to sustainable seafood that draws on the local foods movement and stewards the ecosystems that produce our seafood in their entirety, rather than evaluating the status of individual commercial fish species in isolation.
The dinner series is now self-sustainable and will continue on well into the future. Sarah also hopes to foster a partnership between fishermen and ecologists to create a set of guidelines for sustainable seafood consumption.