Embracing Local Food Traditions in New Orleans
After more than a week on the road we arrived in New Orleans. For most of us this was our first visit to this historic and magical city nestled in the Deep South. After the fast pace of the East Coast, we were all happy to be in the Big Easy, with warmer temperatures and a mellow, community vibe. We were pleased to be roaming the streets, meeting locals, and comparing notes with fellow conference-goers.
We were attending Slow Fish 2016, the conference’s first ever gathering in the western hemisphere. Fishermen, scientists, chefs, students, entrepreneurs, and Slow Food advocates gathered in New Orleans to discuss food systems issues and preserving local food cultures and traditions.
Many great discussions, presentations, and food demonstrations made for a lively three days, and we became fully engulfed in fish talk with new acquaintances from around the world. We saw some familiar Alaskans, a great reminder of how tight-knit our community is in the North Pacific, and reconnected with fellow young fishermen from New England, who we’d met just a few days prior in Boston.
Two of our own young fishermen, Kiril Basargin and Elsa Sebastian, shared their fishery narratives during a round of engaging personal presentations. We heard stories of heartache and pain, as well as love for what we do, such as that of an ex-NFL player named Jarvis Green from rural Louisiana. Green returned home after his 10-year NFL career to market local Louisiana shrimp after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I asked the athlete-turned-fishmonger why he ventured back to the Gulf region. “You should never forget about where you came from,” he said. “If everyone cared [about] where we came from, our world and fisheries would be in a lot better shape.”
We discovered a common thread at Slow Fish: passion, respect, and love for our oceans and everything they produce. It was powerful to be surrounded by others who share our deep concern for healthy oceans and sustainable fisheries. “Listening to fishermen from the East Coast and Gulf share their stories was an immediate wake up call of how lucky we are to have abundant, sustainably managed fisheries in Alaska,” said Claire Neaton, a young fisherman from Homer. “Our generation needs to step up and ensure the same fishing opportunities and healthy oceans we take for granted off of our coast will be available for our children.”
Slow Fish 2016 ended with a unique Cajun-style boucherie—a full day festival of eating, drinking, and music at picturesque Docville Farm in Violet, 90 minutes south of New Orleans. Located along the banks of the Mississippi, the farm resembles a setting from a Mark Twain novel. We feasted on pork stew, Cajun-spiced cracklins, and countless other parts of the pig, in addition to local crawfish, shrimp and other seafood delicacies.
Our time at Slow Fish was a great way to wrap up our tour, and I am thankful to have been a part of this group of Alaskan fishermen. After absorbing the experiences and knowledge we found, I believe that all of us walked away from this experience as “highliners.” I know we will share this experience with our families and communities, along with the strength of fisheries, fishing communities and the fishing industry as a whole.
Find out more about the work of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and how to support next generation fishermen and the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network at akmarine.org.