Capitol Hill Ocean Week Continues with Talks on Food Security, Environmental Justice

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Capitol Hill Ocean Week is in full swing, and panelists from the government, private sector, and nonprofits are bringing their expertise to discuss significant issues facing our oceans and coastal communities. Yesterday, food security and justice were on the table, and panelists dove into incorporating traditional fisheries management strategies and how the knowledge of Indigenous and coastal communities on the front lines can build sustainable fisheries for all.

Why This Matters: Coastal and Indigenous communities have fallen victim to pollution and ecological damage caused by large-scale commercial fishing operations. Now, fisheries around the world are suffering, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts agree that climate change and warming waters are devastating fish populations and yields in addition to unsustainable fishing practices. But there’s still hope; studies have shown that increasing ocean protections by just 5% could yield 20% more fish.

  • The world has pledged to protect 30% of all waters by 2030, but progress is lagging.
  • To conserve fisheries, protect coastal and Indigenous communities, and feed the world, we must look to traditional knowledge and management practices that can be implemented immediately by those on the front lines.

 

Fishing for Solutions: Panelists discussed policy, intersectionality, public health, and how to measure outcomes best. The experts agreed that food security is an overarching theme in the battle against climate change and that, like the impacts of warming, it disproportionately impacts communities of color. They said that protections for our waters must be as interconnected as those impacts and as interconnected as our water systems themselves. “Water doesn’t recognize the stop of a line that we have drawn,” said Pepper Roussel, a Food Writer and Activist. “For instance, the Mississippi River that runs from Minnesota all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, we need to have laws and regulations that protect across the States.”

Such protections could prevent public health crises in vulnerable regions due to pollution in their seafood and water. Panelists pointed out that in some areas, residents are unaware of the threats lingering on their dinner plates and that those threats can have devastating consequences. “We had many, many fishermen who said that…I didn’t catch a cold or I didn’t get food poisoning from eating this without understanding that there are PCBs from fossil fuel processors along the banks of the river, legacy toxic sites, and old landfills that are…increasing their exposure to cancer,” explained Julie Patton Lawson, the Director of the Washington DC Mayor’s Office of the Clean City.

The experts affirmed that inclusivity and environmental justice would be crucial to ensuring food security as we protect our oceans. “We need people, people with culture acumen, people on the street and know exactly their communities because that is what makes up the government,” said Eugenio Piñeiro-Soler, the President of the Commercial Fishermen Union de Rincón, Puerto Rico. “We need to find a way to make sure that folks like that go into power positions and policy-making positions because that is the only way we’re going to move forward with this.”

 

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