« January 2009 Table of Contents
Going Green: From fields to sea
Fishing community learns from farmers how to stay afloat
By Lisa Duchene
January 01, 2009
Parishioners of the Unitarian Universalist Church in
Rockland, Maine, have been leaving Sunday services with more
than just good will. They're also taking home whole fish fresh
from the sea.
As part of a community co-op plan to help local fishermen
struggling with high fuel costs and low demand, parishioners
invest in boat shares that entitles them to a portion of the
catch. Investors have received flounder, haddock, cod, pollock,
hake, redfish and monkfish tails in varying amounts, depending
on what turned up in the nets of one of the 11 boats fishing
out of nearby Port Clyde.
Those who had paid $180 received 4 to 6 pounds each week, or
a half-share of the harvest, while those who paid $360 for a
full share received 8 to 12 pounds weekly for 12 weeks.
In all, 200 Maine residents participated in one of the
nation's first Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) programs, a
new approach to supporting domestic fisheries and fishing
CSFs are modeled on popular Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA) programs, numbering about 1,500 nationwide, in which
consumers pay a seasonal fee to a farm for a share of the
harvest and pick up their produce weekly.
CSF advocates hope the CSA model that's helping family
farmers stay on their land will also help fishing communities
stay afloat during an era of depleted fish stocks and
"The old model used to be volume," says Kim Libby, manager
of the Midcoast Fishermen's Cooperative, which represents the
groundfish boats out of Port Clyde, including one captained by
her husband, Gary.
"You'd just go out there and catch as many fish as you can
and sell them. Now the model has changed from quantity to
quality," says Libby. So far, the idea has worked well.
The cooperative learned about CSAs and the potential for
CSFs in the fall of 2007 and began with a 14-week CSF for
shrimp in early 2008 that drew 32 subscribers. It secured a
federal dealer's permit and a license from the state of Maine.
By the summer, they were fishing for 200 people, and dropping
off fish and demonstrating how to fillet it twice a week at
three locations. The co-op is also selling directly to
restaurants near the popular tourist destination of Bar Harbor,
At times, the new approach translated into a 250 percent
increase on the price paid to fishermen. Pollock, for example,
that would have sold for 43 to 60 cents on the Portland Fish
Exchange wholesale auction sold for $3 per pound to CSF members
and $4 to local restaurants.
"The ultimate goal is to sell all of our products to the end
consumer," says Libby. "We can't afford to carry on with
business as usual. The price of everything has gone up except
the price of the product. We've suffered so many cuts at the
federal level regarding groundfishing itself and these guys
can't hope to survive unless we do it this way."
Libby makes the case for environmental responsibility,
arguing fish traveling fewer than 100 miles has a much smaller
carbon footprint than fish that's traveled thousands of miles.
Plus, the Port Clyde fishermen are going above and beyond
federal regulations, she adds. They've lightened their gear to
reduce bottom impact, which has also saved fuel and emissions,
and are experimenting with other gear changes like a 7-inch
mesh size - 6.5 inches is required - to let small fish
In Portland, Maine, lobstermen and brothers John and Brendan
Ready sell lobster directly to 150 investors and tell their
story using videos on their "Catch a Piece of Maine" Web site
The CSFs are part of a niche marketing trend among U.S.
fishermen in several regions who are finding innovative ways to
stand apart from the commodity market, brand their story and
sell their catch directly to consumers.
In North Carolina, where one-third of fish houses or
waterfront wholesale buying operations went out of business
from 2000 to 2006, the Sea Grant program has sponsored research
into creating CSFs for local fisheries. In 2007, researchers
surveyed 300 coastal residents and tourists about their
fish-eating habits. People were shocked to learn that the fish
served in restaurants was more likely to be imported than
local, says Susan Andreatta, an associate professor of
anthropology at the University of North Carolina who is
studying how to adapt CSAs for fisheries.
About 84 percent of the consumers surveyed in North Carolina
want to be eating local seafood, says Andreatta. The program
published a brochure that helped consumers find local seafood
and built upon the branding work of commercial fishermen, fish
distributors, researchers and restaurant owners who established
the "Carteret Catch" marketing program, named after the North
The consumer survey asked customers if their choice was a
$15 imported meal or a $20 local meal would they be willing to
pay the difference? "People overwhelmingly said they would,"
says Andreatta. "They expected it to be local and were willing
to pay for it."
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,