Q&A with Oceonographer & Activist Fabien Cousteau at Rio+Social

“Our mission is to shut our doors as a nonprofit.”

-Fabien Cousteau, Founder of Plant A Fish; raised in a family tradition of ocean exploration.

Plant A Fish takes a grassroots approach to addressing ocean degradation; we’re here at a summit of government leaders and global institutions. What’s the connection?

The difference between the Plant A Fish approach versus the government approach: one’s top-down, one’s bottom-up. I think you definitely to have a symbiotic relationship between the two approaches.

The fact that we look to platforms like Rio+20 as either success or failure depending on the outcome is a fallacy, because government officials can only do so much– because of vested interests, because of parameters, because they’re only there for a few years, because we don’t necessarily communicate with our leaders the way we should be. We should voice our opinions if we’re displeased, or scared, or concerned about the outcomes.

In the meantime, that’s not an excuse to do nothing. Being cynical is only a camouflage for doing nothing, and that’s not acceptable in this day & age where we’re all responsible for the outcomes. Not just for Rio+20 but the day-to-day impacts– whether it’s for education, mortality rates, the rights of women, or the health of the oceans. The more we can imbibe ourselves with this education, the more we’re empowered because we will have the knowledge and also the tools to make change ourselves.

How does empowerment fit into marine species restoration?

We understand what planting a tree means. So why does restoration, in our minds, stop at the water line? I could only imagine that in individual that feels pigeonholed in their mind, who can’t progress or make change– it can be very frustrating.

I couldn’t imagine why we vilify communities that have negative impact, just to make ends me, or just because they dont’ know better. Being able to empower ppl instead of vilifying them, make them part of the solution rather than to point to them as the problem, is part of the mission of Plant A Fish.

We educate, empower and facilitate a structure that creates restoration initiatives. We guide them through these initiatives so they can create real change themselves. The idea is for them to take ownership of these activities, because at the end of the day it’s their backyard, not me, Mr. Frenchman’s.

In the case of El Salvador or other poor countries, there’s usually an economic component. We give them the supplement to their income that is needed, and which was contributing toward the problem. But that’s a temporary solution. Our mission is to shut our doors as a nonprofit. So we train them to do alternate and complementary jobs: they become guides, restaurant owners, run shops, work in the hospitality industry. In some cases we’re training fishermen to become aquaculturists. That’s how we become obsolete—they don’t need us anymore.

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