INTERVIEW WITH Captain John Nicolai
(Founder of LOBSTER TALK, National and international speaker and media guest)
“LOBSTER TALK: WHAT WE LEARN FOR SUSTAINABLE FISHERY MANAGEMENT”
For centuries, our seas and oceans have been considered a limitless bounty of food. However, increasing fishing efforts over the last 50 years as well as unsustainable fishing practices are pushing many fish stocks to the point of collapse. According to WWF, more than 30 percent of the world's fisheries have been pushed beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them. One aspect of sustainable fishing lies on involving and incentivizing fishing industries in improving fishing practices. Nowadays, the fishery resources in world aquatic ecosystems are under threat due to the increasing pollution and anthropogenic impacts, as well as rising temperatures and ocean acidification due to climate change. Captain John Nicolai, one of Maine’s (USA) most knowledgeable and entertaining lobster experts, is trying to bring about awareness on the importance and sustainable use of lobsters. He would like to share the “legacy of sustainability” to fisheries departments and fishermen around the world to helping them for making a sustainable lobster fishing and sustainable fishery management. According to Captain John Nicolai, consumer education is the key in promoting seafood responsible fishery stewardship stories. Healthy dietary choices and teaching present and future generations how to properly prepare different seafood dishes in their kitchens is imperative. Captain John Nicolai is entertaining presentation complete with orange lobsterman overalls, baseball cap and Maine lobsterman attitude. ‘Lobster Talk’ lectures have been taken worldwide and appeared on national and international television shows, in printed media, with over 7,000 presentations. What exactly is the Lobster Talk project? Who is it addressed to? How people can see these presentations and come in contact with Captain John Nicolai? Captain John Nicolai answered to these and other questions.
This interview was made in January 2017 and published in March 2018 on www.lteconomy.org
Subject: sustainable fishing
This interview was made by:
Geetha Plackal (Long Term Economy collaborator and CO-Chair of Exe.Board GGA, India)
Thanks go to Dario Ruggiero (Founder of Long Term Economy, GGA, Italy), Stephen Saunders (Long Term Economy collaborator).
Photo courtesy of Lovin’ the light photography by Linda Bainter
- Close to 70% of fisheries around the world are in some kind of trouble for various reasons.
- One statistic that I find very troubling is 91% of seafood consumed in the United States comes from other countries.
- Add to that threats such as micro-plastics polluting our oceans, ocean warming, ocean acidification and I’ll also add the threat of ocean oil drilling platforms and other environmental issues to be seriously considered, we need to do a better job protecting our oceans as a whole.
- Teaching the public how to process (cook) ingredients like vegetables, meat and especially seafood is the key to better health, reducing poverty and living a better quality of life overall.
- Consumers exercise their right to choose what they buy. This becomes the driving market force that will dictate whether or not unsustainable fishing practices will be tolerated in the future.
- What I do believe, in all seriousness, is that lobsters, in their own way, do talk to us. Many other sea creatures do as well, but the real question is: are we listening? The Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of the United States is experiencing rapidly rising temperatures… Lobsters and other species that have a low threshold for warm waters are migrating north to cooler and deeper regions. Sea creatures are talking to those who study them, and sounding the alarm that something is very wrong.
- Enforcement of regulations is the fundamental key to the success of any fishery. Maine’s Department of Marine Fisheries is one of the best in the world. They have strict law enforcement of fishery regulations. Maine’s lobster fishery sustainable with the collaboration of lobstermen and wome.
1. Question: Dear Captain John Nicolai, thank you for being with us. First of all, let us to know something more about you. Could you tell us what has made you enter the world of sustainable fishing?
Thank you for giving me this platform to spread the word on how sustainable fishing practices analogous to those practiced in the state of Maine can help other fisheries worldwide. Close to 70% of fisheries around the world are in some kind of trouble for various reasons. As you stated, 30% are on the verge of imminent collapse because of unsustainable fishing practices. One statistic that I find very troubling is 91% of seafood consumed in the United States comes from other countries. Add that to threats such as micro-plastics polluting our oceans, ocean warming, ocean acidification and I’ll also add the threat of ocean oil drilling platforms and other environmental issues to be seriously considered, we need to do a better job protecting our oceans as a whole. I believe Maine’s iconic lobster fishery can be used as an example of sound and responsible fishery management solutions. I felt compelled to educate people not only about Maine lobster and its culinary status, but also about how consuming responsibly harvested seafood is so important to consumers. Long ago I was a French chef (I have a dual citizenship) and occasionally I taught people how to cook in different venues. In the US especially, preparing seafood represents a daunting task in many households. Lobster even more so, especially when it comes to boiling or steaming a live creature in your average American family kitchen. It’s a cultural thing. Then you have to figure out how to crack open and eat this weird invertebrate with a pokey exoskeleton…OMG! No wonder most lobster and seafood is consumed in restaurants in our country. Teaching the public how to process (cook) ingredients like vegetables, meat and especially seafood is the key to better health, reducing poverty and living a better quality of life overall. In today’s society, convenience is the focal point that people live and die by. Our menu choices are often misguided and lack fresh and healthy ingredients. We, in the seafood industry, can play a crucial role in filling the need of educating consumers how to properly and tastefully process food. This is not something I cover (except for how to cook lobster) during my lectures, but it is something I strongly believe in. Hardware store chains like “Home Depot” realize, that it takes more than spending millions of dollars to market tools to “do it yourself” (DYI) customers. They present in store seminars hosted by tradesmen and women, to show how to use those tools and how to realize different projects that give pleasure and a sense of accomplishment to its customers hence, promoting tool sales. Same can be applied to seafood. Supermarkets, fish markets and schools can offer classes on how to execute the simple preparation of seafood to produce healthy, tasty and economical dishes to feed their families. If you don’t know how to process and prepare seafood, you probably won’t buy it.
2. Question: In your campaigns for sustainable fishing you give much importance to consumers. Why?
Consumers exercise their right to choose what they buy. This becomes the driving market force that will dictate whether or not unsustainable fishing practices will be tolerated in the future. Educating consumers on provenance, good stewardship of our resources, healthy dietary advantages of consuming seafood and reversing destructive worldwide fishery practices is crucial. This will draw them to not only eating more seafood, but to feeling good about doing so. I believe that better educated consumers will demand responsibly harvested seafood.
3. Question: And that bring us to talk about your ‘Lobster Talk.’ It is quite an original project. What are its main objectives? Why Lobster and why Talk?
I’ve been asked (tongue and cheek) the question many times “can you really talk to lobsters”? My standard answer is that I’m ready to publish a lobster/English dictionary very soon that will be translated into 20 different languages. What I do believe, in all seriousness, is that lobsters, in their own way, do talk to us. Many other sea creatures do as well, but the real question is: are we listening? The Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of the United States is experiencing rapidly rising temperatures. Worldwide, this phenomenon is the most noticeable off our coast and the New England coastline in particular. Lobsters and other species that have a low threshold for warm waters are migrating north to cooler and deeper regions. Sea creatures are talking to those who study them, and sounding the alarm that something is very wrong. In all fairness, my “Lobster Talk” lectures focus mostly on the anatomy, biology, sustainability, regulatory issues and how lobsters are caught. We also cover marketing and offer generous time for questions and answers at the end of the 1 to 1 ½ hour lecture. The favorite part of my talk is the Q&A session! Attendees are always engaged, curious and ask lots of questions. I consider questions flattering and rewarding. A lecturer that doesn’t generate questions from the audience means one of two things: either they were really thorough or, extremely boring. I don’t mind being thorough, but boring, never!
4. Question: Let’s suppose we would bring your project to our country. What should we do?
Give me the opportunity to talk about a subject that I’m passionate about, with the sincere hope that people will be interested and receptive to what I have to share concerning Maine’s iconic lobster fishery. Hopefully, for those interested in learning about sound fishery practices and improving stewardship of their own fisheries, it will generate valuable and useful conversations.
5. Question: What else could we do to spread your message around the world?
My joy is to meet people from different walks of life, interested in learning about something they may have never thought of. Maine’s lobster fishery is a vehicle that I use because I’m familiar with it. But it applies to a much larger global picture of how important our oceans are to mankind’s survival as a species. If my story about Maine’s lobster fishery helps, I consider this endeavor a success. I’m just a humble fisherman trying to share what I love by telling a compelling story.
6. Question: Your presentation is focused on lobsters…but the whole fishing industry is in danger. Could you tell us what are its main causes of unsustainability? Do you have a strategy for making it sustainable?
The one thing I cannot emphasize enough is this: when it comes to the topic of regulatory issues coupled with sustainability, “enforcement” of fishery laws is imperative! Any regulations that are not enforced, aren’t worth the paper they’re written on…period! Enforcement of regulations is the fundamental key to the success of any fishery. I consider that Maine’s Department of Marine Fisheries is one of the best in the world. Without their diligence and strict enforcement of fishery regulations we would be like so many other fisheries around the world…an abject failure. I can’t say enough about the incredible work they do to preserve and protect Maine’s fisheries. This is why I have so much respect for these honorable protectors of Maine’s marine resources. They are responsible in keeping Maine’s lobster fishery sustainable and enjoy a very close collaboration with lobstermen and women. Our fishermen want to leave behind a “legacy of sustainability” so that their children can carry on this noble way of living for generations to come.
7. Question: Is your original approach suitable for other sectors (for example to the meat or to the agricultural sector)?
Many parallels can be drawn between farmers (my mother was raised on a farm in France), the meat industry and fisheries. Weather, market pressures, feed prices, fuel costs, equipment expenditures and maintenance, competition, regulatory issues, and the dreaded “middlemen” are a few I can think of. For those that feed society by growing, producing or harvesting the food we consume, our plight is the same. One thing that we all share: we are proud, hard working and, for the most part, honest people that have stories to tell. We can learn a lot from these dedicated people making a living on land and from the sea if we just take the time to listen.
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