Fogo Island is making strides in promoting ocean sustainability, with its New Ocean Ethic plan now in its sixth year.
Created in 2008, New Ocean Ethic is a series of projects that explores new ways to care for the health of the ocean and protect the welfare of those whose lives are linked to the sea. It is a component of the Shorefast Foundation, a charity that aims to revitalize Fogo Island by turning it into a world-leading geotourism destination.
“The biggest asset that Fogo Island has is the ocean,” said Gordon Slade, chairman and ocean adviser for the Shorefast Foundation.
“We know that the health of the ocean is in peril in certain places. The question becomes, what can we do at a community level? People look at it and say, ‘Well, it’s so big. What can I do?’ Well, everyone can do something, and if everybody did something, something good would happen. And that’s the philosophy behind all of this.”
The New Ocean Ethic has 11 main objectives, including creating a Fogo Island Ocean Atlas, opening an Ocean Literacy Centre, collecting cultural stories and songs about the sea, and developing a national ocean lecture series.
One component of the initiative is cod potting — a method for harvesting cod that produces a high-quality product with a low environmental impact. Instead of trawling a net across the ocean floor, causing damage to the ocean bottom and unnecessarily capturing other fish species, cod pots — large, baited mesh cages — are placed on the bottom of the ocean.
While cod become trapped in the cage, smaller fish can swim out through the mesh. The cod are then brought out of the ocean alive, and anything that is not cod can be released back into the water.
“It is the best way to get the best quality of fish, and also the best way to sustain the ecosystem for future generations,” said Slade.
Five fishermen in Fogo Island currently use the cod-potting method, although Slade says he hopes more will follow in the coming years. Several upscale restaurants now exclusively purchase cod caught with this method, including Bacalao Restaurant, Blue on Water and the Sheraton Hotel.
“People today, chefs in restaurants, in particular, are much more interested and knowledgeable in where the fish is coming from,” said Slade.
“So the cod we produce in the cod pot, you know exactly where it’s coming from, you know exactly who caught it, you know exactly how it’s handled.”
Citizen science is another critical part of New Ocean Ethic.
That project encourages community-wide information collection and sharing, especially among local fishers.
“There’s a view round that only the scientists are the ones that collect data of any value, and that’s not true. Fishermen, when they’re going out on their daily activity, they observe all sorts of things,” said Slade.
“Citizen science is collecting all of that data and that’s going to go into a databank.”
One of the new initiatives for 2014 is eliminating the use of plastic shopping bags and continuing a beach cleanup project that began in 2013.
“The No. 1 thing this project promotes is a greater understanding of the oceans themselves so people can take greater responsibility,” said Slade.
“Everybody has a role to play, and what I’m hoping is that over time, people will see on Fogo island that the people themselves don’t need all this regulation. They understand the value of the species, they understand the ocean, and therefore they’ll do a lot more themselves. That’s the way it should be.”
Slade hopes Fogo Island will become a model for communities around the world.
“I hope at the end of the day that Fogo Island and Change Islands will be seen as places in the world that are doing something different and are taking a greater role in responsibility for their inshore fishing grounds.”