How a small group of fishermen and consumers are creating an alternative marketplace for locally caught fish.
Antonis is a low impact fisherman from Lesvos. He has been fishing since he was a child. In the last few years, the times he has returned to port without any fish have been increasing at an alarming rate. “I feel like I lived with the ocean in its good times. There were enough fish. But now, year after year, there are less and less. We come back with an almost empty boat.”
Low impact fishermen like Antonis are the heart and soul of the Greek seas. They spend all of their lives fishing in the same waters, so they are motivated to act as guardians of the sea. Their livelihood is fundamental to the economy and culture of small coastal communities. But the priorities of the global market and competition with larger industrial vessels are forcing many to abandon their “kaiki” (a traditional fishing vessel) and look for employment elsewhere.
This summer, Greenpeace Greece launched the project “A Box of Sea”, which brings together low impact fishermen and citizens who want to take action against overfishing. The aims of this coalition are to create a fairer market which protects the marine environment, rewards those who fish in more moderate ways, supports small fishing communities and provides better information to consumers regarding the seafood that ends up on their plates.
We were lucky enough to meet the fishermen of Lesvos and Leros while helping out with the refugee crisis last year. They set aside their fishing gear without a second thought to shoulder the humanitarian crisis in their community. For years they have been “fishing souls” instead of fish, as Kostas from Lesvos describes it. These fishermen and their communities deserve our support to cope with both the environmental and the refugee crises that they face.
The “Box of Sea” project is the first ever hands-on attempt to pave the way for an alternative and fairer model of fishing. Supporters receive fish caught daily by low impact fishermen to their doorstep. Those who receive the boxes help us to test out different tools and logistic details in order to establish a distribution system that will be operated exclusively by the fishermen in the future.
The most challenging part of the project was working out how to transport the fish from islands in the far east of the Aegean Sea to Athens in a maximum of 24 hours. But we managed to find a way; using already existing transportation services – ferries and lorries – and by calling on the entire Greek team of volunteers and staff who delivered the boxes to the doorsteps of our supporters.
Since its launch in June, the “Box of Sea” has received significant support from citizens who are really keen on directly participating in the creation of an alternative fish market. As Katerina from Athens told us when she received her box, “this project gives us the opportunity to safeguard the oceans and those that fish with the best possible way. Only by doing so can we call ourselves civilized.”
Alkis Kafetzis is an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace Greece.