This Thanksgiving week, when most people are fixated on turkey, there is another holiday that is easy to miss, and it’s an international one that celebrates the sea rather than the land. World Fisheries Day was Tuesday, Nov. 21, and has been happening in some form for the last 26 years. According to NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that regulates fisheries in the United States, fisheries provide more than 20% of the world’s protein intake, the United States being one of the largest seafood-consuming and fishing nations.

World Fisheries Day was first established in 1997 in India — not the first place I would have thought of to initiate a seafood holiday, but I have discovered that this is one of the places where sustainability of fisheries was most endangered. The holiday started when a group of representatives from 18 countries came together in New Delhi and signed a declaration advocating for a global mandate of sustainable fishing practices and policies. The group, convened as the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WFF), collaborated with the U.N. FAO, or United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, to officially establish World Fisheries Day as an international holiday in 2003.

While the mandate of the original WFF agreement was a broad one, one of the particular issues that was highlighted by this group and that the World Fisheries Day is designed to draw attention to is not just the fisheries themselves but also the people who are involved in harvesting that seafood and the critical role that their work plays in international economies as well as food supplies. This year, the event honed down even more to focus on small-scale harvesters, the theme being to “build enabling policy environments for small-scale artisanal fisheries.”

While economy and sustainability may not immediately seem to go hand in hand, in fact, this tends to often be the case. The smaller-scale operators have a greater investment in the sustainability of the resource they are harvesting because it directly supports their livelihood. Often policies, however, are not favorable to smaller-scale producers, and the distance and therefore disconnect between the resource and the harvester increases. World Fisheries Day seeks to elevate the importance of policies that support these small-scale fishers.

In Maine, we are fortunate to have small-scale fisheries where fishermen are invested in the future of economic opportunities on the waterfront as well as the health of the populations of seafood that they harvest. Part of the credit for the sustainability of U.S. fisheries also goes to our management system, which is incredibly stringent. It certainly poses challenges to fishermen with its complicated web or regulations, but it also means that you can feel confident when purchasing seafood harvested locally in Maine that it is being harvested sustainably.

Sustainably managed fisheries are not the norm in many other places in the world. In fact, one of the priorities of the NOAA fisheries is to address illegal fishing practices. They coordinate with other countries around the world both to advocate for sustainable management practices and also to tackle the tricky issue of IUU fishing. This is the stuff that often pops up in the news — IUU stands for “illegal, unreported and unregulated.” It’s tricky because of differences in jurisdiction as well as the multiple layers of the seafood supply chain, each of which provide opportunities for illegal activity.

IUU fishing poses a threat not only to the populations of fish and other seafood that are harvested and the livelihoods of those who fish legally but also to the workforce that supplies the labor in what can be unsafe and inhumane conditions. This concern led to NOAA participating in the formation of the CALM-CS initiative — the Collaborative Accelerator for Lawful Maritime Conditions in Seafood. The effort is in coordination with the United Nations and seeks to set appropriate standards for decent working in the fishing industry.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the bounty of seafood we have here in Maine and also for the hard work that those who harvest it put in day after day, even in the bitterest cold months of winter.

Susan Olcott is the director of operations at Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

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