Mabuhay to the Stories We Tell

Wrapping up Ocean Conservancy’s first-ever podcast

Mabuhay, in my native language of Tagalog, directly translates to “long live.” It is a saying commonly used for greeting someone or departing from them. There is no beginning or end to mabuhay, only well wishes to someone you connect with and a hope to see them again. Mabuhay calls on the spirit, soul and life—it’s about the essence of a person meeting another. Mabuhay is the overarching value that I hold close from two successful seasons of the Fish & Us podcast.

Fish & Us: Climate Stories from the Waterfront was conceived last year with a goal of raising awareness and sharing stories about the impacts of climate change on marine fisheries, as told by the people who spend their days catching, managing and researching fish from the ocean. I spoke with ten incredible individuals over the course of eight episodes. These interviews were full of memories, laughs and important messages on the state of marine fisheries in the United States and how climate change is already affecting fishing and the people who depend on fisheries. 

We are now at the closing chapter of season two, tying a ribbon around Fish & Us for the moment. I feel nostalgic, grateful, proud and supported, and I take away two major themes in my experience of creating and hosting the Fish & Us podcast:

A Celebration of Continuous Learning and of Storytelling as a Practice

Thank you to the podcast guests: Tony Friedrich, Dave Monti, Michele (Robinson) Conrad, Hannah Heimbuch, Ashley Sullivan, Jaclyn McGarry, Morna Briggs, Mandy Karnauskas, Feini Yin and Mellisa Maktuayaq Johnson. From you all, I learned more about fisheries and the many sectors and spaces that encompass them: recreational fishing, commercial fishing, subsistence fishing, fishery management, fishery science, seafood economies, ghost gear in fisheries and community-based fisheries. From our conversations, I have pictured myself traversing across fisheries that span the Pacific coast to the Arctic region, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic shores. And as I worked on the podcast during my RAY Fellowship, I got to fish in the Gulf of Mexico and sail in Maine waters!

A group of Ocean Conservancy staff smiling aboard the American Promise sailboat with their backs to an incredible orange and purple sunset.
Ocean Conservancy crew on American Promise vessel with Rozalia Project to collect ghost gear in the islands of Maine.

Telling stories, like journaling and communication with friends and family, is an ongoing practice. This podcast taught me that I’m an ever-evolving storyteller. Writing is my storytelling medium of choice, but it has been refreshing to use my voice, with all its murmurs and tones and pauses, to express myself. In a fast-paced society, I learned to cultivate the spirit of my voice, to feel confident in the natural steady deliberateness of my tongue. 

I also learned the careful craft of assessing what to highlight from an entire conversation with someone and honoring this person and their story in the episode-production process. This came down to prioritizing what they share about their home, how they grew up, their path to and role in fisheries, and their experiences and messages about climate change. We sprinkled a good amount of humor in there, too.

Creating this podcast was as challenging as it was rewarding. It takes a village, and I’m grateful for my team and colleagues at Ocean Conservancy, 4Site Studios and Thornwolf Creative Services for their key contributions and support.

A Deeper Awareness of the Impacts of Climate Change on Fisheries

This is a core question of Fish & Us: What climate change impacts are there on U.S. marine fisheries? As Ashley Sullivan says in Episode 5, “There are fish that are moving north into this ecosystem that have never been found here before—and nobody better to tell us these changes than the fishermen themselves.” Fishing is often an intergenerational tradition, and fishermen observe changes they see on the water day-to-day and over years, often recalling waters getting warmer and fish moving further north to follow cooler waters.

From scientists and managers, I formed a deeper understanding of ecosystem relationships such as with crab fisheries and whales along the Pacific Coast (Episode 3) and red-tide events in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico (Episode 6). From every guest, I learned that people are a huge part of that ecosystem, too. The fact that fish species are moving and their abundance in their usual habitats is declining means that people are adapting what they eat and how they make a living.

I posed another regular question to my guests, “What makes a compelling story around climate change?” The topic of climate change can be vast and nebulous. I’m still learning, but my answer from this experience is that it’s impactful to have a focal point of a story. This can look like a person’s core memory of fishing, a vivid description of their home and how it’s changed, their advocacy to integrate climate change in fishery management solutions and approaches or possibly a mix of the above. Everyone I interviewed had a part of their story that really shines, and whatever it was, I always wrote it down and asked if they could talk about it more. I was also curious about people’s emotions and feelings around climate change. Emotions are universal human experiences, and we felt and talked about a range of them in our stories: hope, disappointment, joy and grief.

Overall, people experience climate change based on their background, where they live, and how they engage with the management process, and so the hope here was to find people across places, upbringings and roles which made for a rich, diverse platform of stories. 

I know enough and care enough about the outdoors that I want to protect it, so what do we do? The only thing that we can do, the only thing that we can do is to make sure that the fish have habitat and that there’s a lot of them in the water. The more of them in the water is the greatest insurance policy.”

– Tony Friedrich, lifelong recreational fisherman from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, addressing the question of what to do about fish species vulnerable to climate change (Episode 1)

We’ve also done some research looking into resilience, trying to understand how people keep their businesses afloat when these severe events come along. So, for example, they might respond by moving their boats to different areas, shifting target species, shifting gears, or even temporarily leaving fishing and just coming back when the conditions resolve.” 

– Mandy Karnauskas, NOAA Fisheries fishery biologist from Miami, Florida, on NOAA Fisheries studying the resilience of fishing communities around climate-related events such as red tide (Episode 6)

We protect our species because it’s our way of life. You know, it’s our connection to language, to our culture, to our dance, to our different craft making.” 

– Mellisa Maktuayaq Johnson, government affairs and policy director with the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribal Consortium from Anchorage, Alaska, on salmon declines affecting Indigenous livelihoods and ways of life (Episode 8)

In producing Fish & Us, my most treasured times were connecting with my guests over what brought us together. At the core of storytelling is a mutual sharing of values, whether that is family, food and culture or whether that is love, hope and care. From my incredible podcast guests, I got a sense of a better future and a shared desire to work together—so that fishing traditions may continue, so that fish may be sustainable and abundant, so that marine ecosystems are thriving. 

Mabuhay is about a life of longevity, which I see applying easily to the concept of sustainable fisheries. Just as you wish goodness and longevity to someone, my guests and I always arrived at the hopes of a “long life” for fisheries that provide for and hold meaning for so many people and places. I speak mabuhay to these stories that have transformed my understanding of fisheries and climate change for the better. For the fish that sustain us and for these stories worth sharing and connecting over, it’s critical that we take action and support the ongoing work in policy, science and management of sustainable fisheries in the face of climate change. 

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