As an activist, I practice a networked approach to change-making that involves many collaborations with organizations and other individuals. In the fishing communities I spend time in, I am surrounded by inspiring and thoughtful everyday leaders who make their world and my world a better place through their commitment. These people are my role models, and in many cases, my mentors.
Like all activists, I am still figuring out how to be most effective. As an introvert, I have found that listening to others and helping them elevate their voices can go further than standing on the front lines and calling for action. I enjoy finding common ground with others and sowing seeds for action in affection and hope, not resentment and despair.
The issues that matter most to me are listed below. If you find one that you're not familiar with, I hope you take a moment to educate yourself about it! You can also get in touch with the organizations listed below to learn how you can get involved in some of these issues.
If you want to team up with me to take action on one of the issues below, please get in touch!
Causes and Commitments
Fisheries-Friendly Climate Solutions
Commercial fishermen are on the front lines of climate change. There is no question that humanity must take immediate and sustained action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in nature-based carbon sequestration. However, we must embrace no-regrets climate solutions that enhance, rather than threaten, the ability of natural and human systems to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Currently, commercial fishermen on the East and West Coasts of the United States are staring down the barrel of an orchestrated push to install thousands of massive steel wind turbines up and down the continental shelf, with electrical cables crisscrossing fish habitat to bring electricity to shore. There are many unknowns about the ecological and economic effects of wind energy development on marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them. Until we can obtain and based our decisions in reliable knowledge about these impacts, we should treat offshore wind as a last-resort climate solution and instead throw our weight behind climate solutions that work in concert with, not against, the resilience of marine ecosystems. In November 2019, I was honored to join the actress Jane Fonda and a band of impassioned activists on the steps of the US Capitol, where we were arrested for refusing to back down in our demands for climate justice. You can read my speech here. In 2019-2020, I served on the Rhode Island Green New Deal Research Council Advisory Council. Since 2020, I have been collaborating with the Commercial Fisheries Center of RI and other regional fisheries groups to develop a platform of climate solutions that support, rather than threaten, wild-harvest fisheries.
Pebble Mine: Wrong Mine in the Wrong Place
The proposed Pebble Mine, located at the headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers, would be a calamity for the ecology and economy of the Bristol Bay region of Alaska. Bristol Bay is where I have spent my summers since 2008, and I owe that water body a huge personal debt of gratitude, for it has enriched me literally and figuratively in ways that are impossible to count. Pebble Mine would be the largest mine in North America and one of the largest in the world. This open-pit mine would extract billions of tons of copper, gold, and molybdenum from an earthquake-prone region of Alaska's tundra, which currently serves as the world's richest spawning grounds for sockeye salmon. This mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place, which is why so many of Alaska's commercial fishermen, tribal leaders, and sports fishermen have come together to say NO to Pebble Mine. Between 2013 and 2017, I organized with fellow seasonal Alaska cannery workers from around the U.S. to submit letters in support of an EPA declaration prohibiting large scale mine development in the Bristol Bay watershed, and traveled from Maine to North Carolina gathering letters of support from East Coast fishermen and representing the organization Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay at trade shows. Unfortunately, the EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt pulled the plug on these proposed protections and put the Pebble Mine on the fast track for development. Alaskans are now working at the state level to block this disastrous proposal. Check out Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, United Tribes for Bristol Bay, and Save Bristol Bay to learn what you can do.
Non-Fishing Impacts to Fishery Habitats
My first real-world encounter with fishermen challenging polluters and advocating for habitat protection was in the year 2006 in Mehuin, Chile. A nearby pulp mill was proposing to put an effluent outflow pipe in a bay used by small-scale fishermen and shellfish divers for their livelihoods. The fishermen and their communities were standing up for ecological integrity and corporate accountability. I eventually lost touch with those determined fishermen, but since that time, I have encountered many other fishermen who advocate for the habitat they depend on. Fishermen in Bristol Bay standing against the proposed Pebble Mine; fishermen in Southeast Alaska standing against a series of existing and proposed transboundary mines located in nearby Canada near waters that empty into Alaska salmon spawning streams; fishermen in California standing against the draining of salmon rivers for industrial agriculture; fishermen in the Chesapeake and Gulf of Mexico concerned about runoff and nutrient overenrichment; and fishermen coastwide concerned about oil drilling and industrial fish farming. Most recently, I have been working with fishermen closer to home, in Narragansett Bay, RI, to help decipher a suite of changes that they are observing in the Bay that may be tied to changes in wastewater management. Fishermen are not only keen observers of the marine environment but can be compelling advocates for tougher protections for these environments. I hope to continue learning about these issues and standing with commercial fishermen around the world as they advocate for measures that protect our wild seafood sources.
Curbing and Adapting to Climate Change
Climate change is an issue that needs no introduction. But what you may not know is that climate change is having visible and fast-paced effects in the marine environments that support our wild seafood economies. As a commercial fisherman, I firmly support measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through distributed small-scale renewable energy generation, energy efficiency, public transportation, walking, biking, localized economies, and ambitious policy action. I also support eating wild seafood, which is recognized as being lower in carbon emissions than all other forms of animal protein. But even if we do everything we can to curb greenhouse gas emissions, we must also recognize that the climate will continue to change. In fact, it has always been changing, to some degree. Unfortunately, our modern fisheries management system has largely failed to recognize the inherent variability of marine ecosystems. Today's fast-changing marine ecosystems reveal an urgent need to redesign fisheries management to be more adaptable in the face of climate variability and change. Through projects like the Resilient Fisheries RI project, I have heard a lot about how fishermen are adapting to these changes and what more needs to be done. In the coming years, I hope to see our fisheries management system respond to these needs through policy change that enables fishermen to adapt more swiftly to changing ecosystems.
Supporting the Next Generation of Commercial Fishermen
Fishing used to be a line of work in which stamina, grit, and ambition were all it took to succeed. Unfortunately, these traits are no longer enough. Around the U.S., fewer young people are showing an interest in commercial fishing, and those who do soon find that the cards are stacked against them by high costs of entry, corporatization of fishing boats and licenses, and a shortage of support and training opportunities. Luckily, fishing community activists and social scientists have begun focusing on the "greying of the fleet" phenomenon and thinking about what needs to be done to assure that the fisheries of tomorrow are just as vibrant as the fisheries of yesteryear. I am committed to helping to reverse present trends and to instilling in the next generation of fishermen a commitment to uphold this traditional way of life and the ecological and social systems it depends on.
Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management and Marketing
For decades, forward-thinking fisheries scientists and fishermen have advocated for "ecosystem-based fisheries management" as an alternative to the single-species management that exists today. Unlike single-species management, which manages each fish species or stock in isolation, ecosystem-based fisheries management manages the whole system, taking into account the status of food webs, habitats, and climate. Between 2012 and 2018, I participated in the founding of the nonprofit Eating with the Ecosystem, whose mission "to promote a place-based approach to sustaining New England's wild seafood" is based on the idea of applying the tenets of ecosystem-based fisheries management to the seafood marketplace. Capitalizing on the local foods movement, Eating with the Ecosystem coordinates citizen science, food-based events, and marketplace educational materials to transform New England's seafood marketplace into a support system for the region's marine ecosystems and all those who depend on them. After stepping down as Eating with the Ecosystem's board president in June 2018, I continue to be involved as a volunteer in several of the organization's projects.
Increasing Public Appreciation of Wild-Harvest Fisheries
In today's technology-steeped world, we place less and less value on those who make their livings off the land and sea. This is a loss for society at large, for we've become detached from the natural world that sustains us. Recognizing this, some of my activism revolves around the simple concept of reconnecting people with wild fisheries through education and cultural connection. I have felt privileged to be part of several projects that raise awareness and appreciation of fisheries, such as the Rhode Island Fisheries Interpretive Signage Trail initiated by Point Judith fishermen and completed in collaboration with the nonprofit Eating with the Ecosystem.
Organizations I Admire
Check them out for yourself, and consider donating and getting involved!