Touched by Argentina’s tragic social protests of December 2001, Iván Greco set out to study real-world economics to better understand the roles and responsibilities of economic development.
From cities to rural areas and back again, Iván has described urban segregations in Uppsala neighborhoods in Sweden (where he got his Master’s in Sustainable Development) and socio-environmental conflicts and asymmetries of power between artisanal fishers and industrial corporations in the Center North and Center South of Chile. He has also participated in government teams in Argentina, helping to create environmental projects in otherwise-degraded territories such as the “Villas” (slums) of Buenos Aires.
Initially attracted to the idea of preserving livelihoods and supporting alternative economic development in fishing communities, Iván has worked with Future of Fish since 2016. Since then, he has collaborated on ethnographic fieldwork in projects in Mexico and Chile.
Q: How did you find your way into marine issues? Why seafood?
I have been curious for a long time now about the complexities of economic development. There are always winners and losers in our way towards so-called “progress.”
After my bachelor’s in Economics, I studied Sustainable Development. My first experience in the marine sector was during fieldwork for my master’s thesis in Chile in 2014. To be honest, I ended up there quite randomly. A Chilean professor in Sweden offered to be my thesis supervisor if I helped her with fieldwork in Chile, so I got my ticket to travel along the Chilean coastline!
There I got to see so many different cultural identities and started to understand the danger we all face when we see the actual state of the ocean: biomass decreasing, no catch for fishers, climate change, and a polluted ocean. Desperate fishermen, cove after cove, were telling us their stories.
It seemed unfair to me that an open pit mine project could be located near one of the greatest fishing hotspots in Chile: Punta de Choros Cove. An analysis of that situation and its effects ended up being my Master’s thesis.
I enjoyed working on the ground, listening to what the communities that harvest our food have to say. I think that is what attracts me the most — working with small-scale fishers.
Q: What have been some unexpected hurdles in working in the seafood industry?
A lot of fish is consumed within cities around the world, and that fish is often bought through larger supermarket chains. Supply chains are complex, but it still seems insane that fishers get such low prices in comparison to the revenues that traders and big supermarket chains get. Sometimes it makes you think that something is not working properly. And most of the time, conditions for the fishers — responsible for getting us the richest sources of protein — are imposed by retailers in big cities. It is a vicious cycle. Fishers want as much as they can to provide income for their communities; retailers want more products to reach their profit goals. Helping find a balance has been one of the biggest hurdles I have faced.
Q: Interest in seafood sustainability and traceability has grown in recent years. Why do you think that is?
I guess I am too naive or maybe a dreamer, but I do believe that we can still think local when it comes to seafood. Increasingly, fish bought at a supermarket could be sourced from local or regional communities. I’m sure that if consumers knew they were buying a product caught 10,000 miles away with low prices for fishers, irresponsible harvest methods, or both, they would think twice before buying.
We are in the 21st century and we are facing challenges at a global scale that were not in even in the picture 30 or 40 years ago. Traceability can be the answer, both in verifying how and when your dinner was caught, and in helping reconnect people in cities with rural and coastal areas.
Q: Where do you think (or hope) the seafood industry will be in 5 years? 10 years?
To be honest, I have no idea. Sometimes I think consumer demand will somehow force industry to rethink the way things are driven. There must be other incentives than just profit. What profit can be taken from a sea without fish? We are not thinking in the long term.
But at the end of the day, what we call “industry” is composed of people. And more people are bringing new debates to the table; it’s hard to say what the future will hold.
Q: What were you doing before you joined Future of Fish?
Before Future of Fish, I worked for the Government of Buenos Aires. I helped develop a multidimensional environmental project within a poverty-stricken area. It was (and still is) an ambitious project without precedent in Argentina.
After months of planning, the project was officially launched in September 2016. Several aspects were codesigned with the community: how to solve the open dump area problems, how to prevent floods by diverting used frying oil away from the sewage system to create biodiesel, creating urban gardens so people can reconnect with the environment.
The project is run by a group of young people willing to be drivers for change in their community. Today, that team and our work is attracting a lot of attention from media and from government authorities.
Q: What most attracted you to working with Future of Fish?
My first exposure to Future of Fish was a bit unexpected. I was on the job hunt in Buenos Aires, looking for any organization focused on sustainable livelihood projects. I told a friend I was looking at fisheries-related positions and he forwarded me a message by Dr. Marah Hardt, who was looking for someone who could contribute to a project in Mexico. The funny thing was that the job posting seemed as if it had been written for me! They were looking for someone with experience conducting onsite interviews with small-scale fishers in Spanish, who could translate the notes to English, and who wanted to travel to remote places — a perfect match!!! I sent my CV and there was Marah! I’m grateful that our paths crossed in that random way.
Q: What are you most looking forward to doing in the next year?
I try not to think too much about “next” anything. Every time I’ve done that, the outcome has been completely different from what I imagined. I guess finding a good balance between my professional life and other things I love to do — maybe giving myself more time to expand my creative energy.
Published Dec 18, 2017