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Fish 'n' film

FaceForward: The People and Stories of Memorial
By Janet Harron | Dec. 22, 2014

The culture and history of Newfoundland and Labrador is steeped in its relationship to the sea and to harvesting seafood. Dr. Barbara Neis’s seven-year Community-University Research for Recovery Alliance (CURRA, 2007-14) examined this relationship by investigating strategies for the recovery of fish stocks and fishery communities.

As part of the CURRA, filmmaker Anne Troake (My Ancestors were Rogues and Murderers) was commissioned to create The 100-Nautical Mile Seafood Diet, a short film promoting the idea of accessing locally sourced seafood.

“Towards the end of the CURRA we had some funding left over and I came up with the idea of doing a film based on the land-based idea of a 100-mile diet but with a focus on seafood – hence the title of the film,” said Dr. Neis, who believes that a diet weighted towards seafood makes more sense than one focused on land-based food production in a place like Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ms. Troake recently completed her MA in anthropology at Memorial.

“I got some sense of the utter absurdity of the way this stuff operates when I learned from Reade Davis [faculty member in the Department of Anthropology and Ms. Troake’s thesis advisor] that a lot of the cod fish we purchase from Dominion and Sobeys actually comes from Russia and New Zealand,” said Ms. Troake, who shot the 16-minute film in April and May of 2014.

Her subjects included Ben Shanahan of The Fish Depot on Duckworth Street in St. John’s, Tom Best of the Petty Harbour Fishermen’s Co-operative, Bonavista fisher Jerry Hussey of Urchin Harvesters Limited, Mallard Cottage’s Todd Perrin and Kelly Taylor of Taylor’s Fish Market in Foxtrap.

The five discuss the various fish they are catching, selling and serving and address the numerous advantages of eating local seafood.

Dr. Neis says there are certain things the public can do to make local fish more accessible, including demanding access, educating themselves on what is being landed around the island, learning how to prepare it and asking to have it served in local schools, including at Memorial University.

Among the fish that is landed off the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador are clams, crab, scallops, mussels, cod, flounder, mackerel, herring, shrimp, sea urchins, cockle, cusk, dogfish, American plaice, eel, halibut, Arctic char, haddock, seal, hack, kelp, monkfish, lobster, shark, sea cucumber, redfish, pollock, silverside, turbot, caplin and catfish.

“We have all the species that you would ever need and we have the best,” said Tom Best in a clip from the film.

The 100-Nautical Mile Seafood Diet can be viewed on the CURRA website and plans are afoot to screen the film in a series of events in 2015. The first will take place as part of a seafood tasting event at Mallard Cottage in January. Dr. Neis hopes to do a screening in Petty Harbour this spring, which will be followed by screenings at Grenfell Campus and the Bonne Bay Marine Station.

It was a conscious decision on the part of Ms. Troake and Dr. Neis to avoid discussion of regulatory barriers in the film in order to keep The 100 Nautical Mile Seafood Diet short and focused on local consumption. However, everyone she interviewed for the film brought up those issues.

“For example, Tom Best has been heavily involved in essentially trying to keep the local economy out of Petty Harbour as active and alive as possible – the uncut version of his interview opened up all sorts of questions and issues,” said Ms. Troake. “Todd Perrin commented that what he really wants is a whole animal, which is being landed 50 feet from his front door but that he cannot legally access – it’s incredibly frustrating.”

According to Dr. Neis, developing a network of community-supported fisheries and allowing direct sales of seafood from harvesters to consumers would help get rid of some of the barriers, as would the development of different microplants and seafood markets outside of St. John’s. Her biggest concern is the awareness of fish as food among young people. She also fears that fish is becoming a food of the wealthy, both in Newfoundland and Labrador and around the globe.

Ms. Troake currently has a couple of projects in development, which include a commission for Canada’s Seals and Sealing Network.

“In 2012 I went out to the seal hunt and shot for 12 days – there’s certainly a documentary in there,” she said. “What really struck me was the profound contrast between the visual image and what is actually happening in terms of animal welfare. The central theme asks: 'To what degree can an audience interpret what is really going on here?'"