By John Pappalardo
Our goal is clear: Keep the independent, small-boat, historic fishing fleet of the Cape and Islands alive and well. Support fishermen who help feed our communities, our nation, and the world. Do so in a way that also helps protect the ocean’s health and vitality so the next generation of fishermen will be able to carry on, and all of us will benefit from that wise stewardship.
Straightforward enough, though of course issue by issue, season by season, how that mission translates into specific action and tangible policies is where the rubber meets the road, or better put where the keel meets the water.
Then comes a moment like now, when a pandemic strikes at pretty much every aspect of our lives, attacks not just our health but our economic well-being, our livelihoods. And it forces us to think hard about how our longstanding goals and mission fit into this new context. It forces us to question assumptions, pressure test what we really believe and how we advocate.
As time passes I’ve become more clear and certain about our course, not less. I also see ways that our hopes and responsibilities can move us into deeper water, drive us toward new initiatives that engage this fleet and this community even more directly with the urgent needs I believe we will face in the months ahead.
By that I mean that this Alliance must become as creative and forceful as possible in finding yet more ways to connect our fishermen and their harvest with people who are struggling with what some refer to as “food insecurity,” a detached way of identifying people who aren’t sure they will have enough to eat. That population is estimated to be as high as 10 percent even here on the generally affluent Cape, many of them children, a number sure to be higher elsewhere and rising everywhere given the pandemic’s impact.
We need to do what we can to take this head-on in a way that supports our fishing community, satisfying our primary mission and also making us all proud, making it clear that we will do our best to put hunger at bay.
We already do this locally. For about five years now, our fishermen have been providing fish to our peninsula’s food pantries, working with the Cape Cod Hunger Network on what we call the Fish for Families program. This is very gratifying but it remains relatively small-scale. So far we’ve distributed about 50,000 pounds of fish, which sounds like a lot and in a way it is, but given the need we see, and not just on the Cape, I feel strongly that we need to ramp up.
The team here at the Fishermen’s Alliance has been working on this, coming up with creative ways we can expand our reach and offer Cape fishermen an opportunity we know they want, to move their catch into many more homes, getting people the best fish and protein in the world. Those creative ways need to build sustainability for the fleet, address the growing need, and remove financial barriers to feeding the hungry.
Connecting those dots might sound like a tall order, but we’re on it, and I think we’re close to a plan. Stand by for more details just as soon as I’m confident we can deliver.
(John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance)