Little Fisheries by the Sea

Local activists get into the labeling business

| March / April 2006

While mom-and-pop businesses and small farms continue to get priced out of existence, the future of independent fisheries is improving, thanks to the efforts of groups such as Clean Catch (, a volunteer organization based in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

'Clean Catch works with small-scale fishing communities to combat efforts to privatize, industrialize, and pollute their local waters,' says the organization's director, Niaz Dorry, who conducts research, publishes issue papers, and does outreach work. 'Clean Catch also looks into environmental issues affecting fisheries -- such as the impact of industrial toxins on the health of fish stocks -- and helps fishing communities articulate their ecological values.'

FishWise, a program of Sustainable Fishery Advocates in Northern California (, takes up where Clean Catch leaves off, bringing the same issues to the marketplace. There is not yet a standardized certification system for seafood, like there is for meat and produce, and while sustainable seafood guides try to highlight best practices, they tend to overlook nonindustrial, individual practitioners who often operate out of their homes, take shorter fishing trips, and use small vessels.

FishWise works with grocery stores in Northern California to apply green (sustainable), yellow (some concerns), and red (unsustainable) labels to their seafood selection, providing a market boost to ecologically responsible fisheries and putting pressure on the 'red' fisheries to adopt better practices. The nonprofit plans to expand down the West Coast.