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sustainable seafood

Eddie Allison Leads Group of Designers in “Designing the Future of Food” Exploration

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Eddie Allison Leads Group of Designers in “Designing the Future of Food” Exploration

Eddie speaks to the Climate Council in Seattle, WA.  Photo by Marina Piedade, Van Alen

Eddie speaks to the Climate Council in Seattle, WA. Photo by Marina Piedade, Van Alen

Last month, Eddie Allison led a group of designers, urban planners, and landscape architects through a three-day exploration into the role fisheries play in food security and how that role may change in the context of climate change. Organized by the Van Alen Institute, a New York City-based architectural non-profit, the Seattle trip was part of the Van Alen Climate Council’s investigation into “Designing the Future of Food.” 

So what do built environment professionals have to do with seafood and climate change? In the self-reflective words of one Council member, “the things that we talk about and design on a daily basis, whether it’s building material, or laying out a transportation system...there’s a result of what we do.” In other words, as this group of designers and others “build things up in the upland, it affects the waters that are so important to [Pacific Northwest fisheries] and the habitats that exist there.” 

This reflection on the impact of the built environment was thanks to three days worth of purposeful collaboration and cross-discipline conversation about the intersection of climate change and food security. The group worked backwards from the table to the ocean: connecting first with chefs and fish traders, then to processing and distribution facilities, and ultimately to the seafood growing sites on Hood Canal and the natural fish habitats off the Seattle waterfront. 

Commercial fisherman and sustainable seafood consultant, Amy Grondin, co-led the program with Allison, connecting the group to local fish traders and chefs and providing insight into efforts to improve the seafood supply chain in response to changing climate conditions.  Allison and Grondin accompanied Council members as they journeyed from Seattle to Hood Canal, grounding their observations in research and connecting them to places and people who hold the stories of the region. 

Delmas Whittaker speaking to the group at the Port of Seattle . Photo by Marina Piedade, Van Alen

Delmas Whittaker speaking to the group at the Port of Seattle. Photo by Marina Piedade, Van Alen

One of those places was the heart of Seattle’s commercial fishing operations at the Port of Seattle, where Allison’s tales of coastal squeeze displacing communities from historically working waterfronts rang true. With the commercial fleet up fishing in Alaska and a rainy summer sky looming overhead, the Port felt quiet and strangely empty. However, Port authorities Delmas Whittaker and Kelli Goodwin told the group it’s that perception of underutilized space that threatens to have development pressures overtake the Port’s critical maritime real estate. Without this critical maritime hub, getting seafood to the tables of Seattleites becomes evermore challenging and costly. 


Competition for space in the built environment was nothing new to the Council members, but taking the competition to the water was a first. As the demand for seafood increases and shellfish production expands, new aquaculture operations are popping up offshore, on land, and even in the lab. Visits to the Taylor Shellfish Farms, Hama Hama Oyster Company, and the Long Live the Kings facility felt to one Council member like a trip to Frankenstein's lab. He speculated, “You can imagine them actually cutting the cord with the natural world entirely and doing this in a giant chemistry set.”

Taylor Shellfish Hatchery.  Photo by Marina Piedade, Van Alen

Taylor Shellfish Hatchery. Photo by Marina Piedade, Van Alen

Long Live the Kings finfish facility.  Photo by Marina Piedade, Van Alen

Long Live the Kings finfish facility. Photo by Marina Piedade, Van Alen

That vision may not be entirely implausible as the shellfish industry turns to innovative solutions to feed future human populations in the face of environmental change, including ocean acidification. Allison hoped this would inspire the Council to redesign and rethink the future of food systems. Ideally, that alternative future would involve producing quality food rather than just what Allison terms “quantity food.” According to Allison, “If your focus turns to nutrition instead of quantity...that maybe starts to lower climate impacts.” This challenge sparked a dialogue about the potential to decentralize food systems and focus on local, culturally-relevant foods. 

Culturally-relevant, in the case of Seattle, often means one thing: salmon. The Council was fascinated by their visit to the Seattle waterfront and what Allison deemed ‘salmon-centered design.’ Salmon act as a ‘sustainability integrator,’ bringing together the management of fisheries, marine and freshwater habitats, catchment land-use planning, food systems, nutrition and cultural connection to food and place. The Council considered using the idea of a sustainability integrator to map the interconnectivity of food and climate impacts in a ‘foodscape.’ In this way, consumers could see how iconic local foods could be used as symbols and indicators to advance more sustainable ways of living in cities. 

However, solving problems associated with food security and climate change involves multiple systems operating in a complicated web of interactions that left some Council members feeling more baffled than ever. For example, Allison highlighted the contradictory narratives being told about the role of fish in global food and nutrition security. His work, along with that of others, has found that people in general are eating more protein than needed, and the role of fish is perhaps most critical when considering its ability to provide micronutrients essential for healthy development and life. 

Despite the complexity of the Puget Sound foodscape, the Council found themselves motivated to continue thinking about how to improve human life in the face of climate change and food insecurity. While the story of seafood in the Puget Sound region is one fraught with climate vulnerabilities, but it is also one of collaborative efforts by passionate and innovative people determined to see the seafood sector thrive far into the future. It remains to be seen where designers such as those who are part of the Van Alen Climate Council can intervene to help ensure that outcome, but that the conversation now involves such a diversity of influential change-makers - including the people who design and build the cities where most of us now live - is surely a source of hope in itself.

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Sustainable seafood journey in Seattle

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Sustainable seafood journey in Seattle

Authors: Pei, Sallie, and Zelin

To promote more sustainable use of marine resources, it is important to educate the public on where the seafood they see on their plate comes from and how the fishing industries will affect the environment. In Asia, education on fish in food culture has gained more and more attention as one of the major environmental outreach themes. Ecotourism is the main pathway to promote education and enhance public awareness related to fish in food culture. Further practices are expected to be involved in education like fish to school program.

With an interest in exploring examples of sustainable seafood practices and education outreach in the U.S. West Coast,  Pei, Sallie, and Zelin launched an initiative to synthesize the what people on the U. S. West Coast have done to enhance seafood sustainability in the region. They shared their findings in the popular publication in Taiwan known as the Fishery Promotion Magazine under Taiwan Fishery Agency, Council of Agriculture.  

While they did enjoy the fun of doing desktop research together to review sustainable seafood education and outreach projects such as the Community Supported Aquaculture, Seafood Watch and, Alaska State-Fish to Schools Program, Pei, Sallie, and Zelin also went on an adventure for the project. They visited popular grocery stores and supermarkets like Safeway, Trader Joe’s and QFC, and to see if they could easily trace the source, fishing method, and fish stock information of fresh, frozen and processed seafood available at the store. The team also visited the first sustainable seafood sushi bar- Mashiko Sushi, and tasted the delicious seafood there. Their findings on seafood traceability and their thoughts on Mashiko Sushi is can also be found in the article.

This journey and resulting publication was a way to commemorate the deep friendship that blossomed between the three students from Taiwan, Hongkong, and China, and to demonstrate the importance of  perspective exchange and cultural communications.



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Studying Sustainable Seafood in Seattle

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Studying Sustainable Seafood in Seattle

For the past year, a group of MARINA lab students (Emily, Henry, Kadie, and Brittany) have been working on a project attempting to understand what it means for Seattle to be a "sustainable US seafood city." Last week, the group presented findings from their project at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle, WA. In addition, the group published a blog post with The Nature Conservancy - a partner in this project - summarizing some of their findings. Take a look at their post here!

 

Photo Credit: TNC / Bridget Besaw

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Koehn and Allison Launch Inaugural Research Grant

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Koehn and Allison Launch Inaugural Research Grant

This fall, PhD Student Zach Koehn and Eddie Allison, along with faculty from the School of Public Health and the School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, were selected to lead one of 5 inaugural pilot grants from the University of Washington’s Population Health Initiative. The Initiative encourages interdisciplinary problem solving at the intersection of human health, environmental resilience and socioeconomic equity. The grant will support Zach’s PhD research linking fisheries and food systems to address diet-based public health issues facing US West Coast communities.

Selected from a pool of more than 60 projects, this project will evaluate whether low-value or bycaught fish can enter local markets in areas with low income or low access to affordable healthy foods. On the project, Koehn noted "in low-income coastal populations, access and availability of healthy foods can be low, and there is a high incentive for people to substitute towards more affordable, but energy-dense nutrient poor food. Cost-effective bycaught species can provide a competitive alternative particularly for rural coastal communities where fishery landings are high. Unfortunately, there is little guidance on how fishery managers and related institutions can operationalize these goals towards equitable population health outcomes, particularly for tribes or low income and diaspora populations with traditional reliance on seafood." 

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Seattle as a Sustainable Seafood City?

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Seattle as a Sustainable Seafood City?

This quarter, a group of MARINA Lab members began a capstone project on sustainable seafood in the city of Seattle. On their project they noted, “for many of us who call Seattle home, local seafood is a source of pride – a signpost of our place on the leading edge of sustainability. Yet, what is unclear is just how far down the sustainable seafood path we are, as a city. For Seattle to be a premier sustainable seafood city, we need to not only more clearly define our target, but also see how far we have to go and what we can do to get there.” Over the coming months, this group will be synthesizing what is known about the flow and fate of seafood in Seattle, identifying the sustainability shortfalls, and drafting a roadmap for action for Seattle in its efforts to become a sustainable seafood pioneer. This project, is a collaboration with the Washington State chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

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