Though relatively new to the community food scene, community supported fisheries (CSF) are gaining momentum in coastal cities around the country. And it’s no wonder. They’re allowing consumers to buy fresh, locally-sourced seafood and have a more transparent relationship with the seafood industry. And fishermen, in turn, are receiving a fairer share of the profits.
Steve Tousignant, who works in operations for Cape Ann Fresh Catch (CAFC) in Gloucester, MA, says the fish purchased from community-supported food programs can even benefit a local economy more than other small-scale vendors. He explained via email, “A la carte sales by individual fishmongers/boats at farmers’ markets might have a comparable product at a cheaper daily price rate, yet CAFC has a wider spectrum of beneficiaries across the local economy.”
That’s because the model supports not one local fisherman, but many. The CSF concept began with Port Clyde Fresh Catch in Maine in 2007. Low wages and overfishing threatened the livelihood of the longtime, year-round fishing village at the time. So the fisherman did something about it—they created a business model where they would have more control over what they sold and for how much.
Enter community supported fishing.
Like many community supported fisheries, Cape Ann Fresh Catch, which started delivering its fish shares in 2009, operates on a seasonal basis. That means they have a spring, summer, and fall schedule that customers pre-pay to take part in. The deliveries at CAFC run from 8-12 weeks (depending on the season) and the customer has the option of picking up food shares either weekly or bi-weekly at one of the organization’s many Massachusetts food sites. If a customer misses signing up for the beginning of a season though, CAFC also allows customers to opt-in to remaining share dates at pro-rated costs. “The frequency and quantity ordered is up to each member,” added Tousignant.
The fare offered by CAFC comes from the Gulf of Maine and consists of fish like cod, hake, haddock, and flounder—fish that swim on or near the bottom of the sea floor. In addition to offering weekly and bi-weekly deliveries of filets or whole fish around Massachusetts, CAFC offers recipes and cooking tips for purchases, and an informative FAQ page for first-timers who may not be used to purchasing seafood wholesale. For instance, Touisgnant recalled that some members who thought they were getting a frozen whole fish were actually getting one so fresh it was still in rigor mortis.
Tousignant adds that the costs for fish at CAFC may vary from what you might see at the local grocery store or famers’ market. He explained, “CAFC does cost more depending on the species received by members when averaged out across the length of a season compared to a grocery store purchase of similar species.” But he also believes that people are willing to pay a little more for their fish in return for quality, environmentally-aware fishing practices, and source traceability.
Tousignant emphasized, “It’s all about strengthening the local economy by keeping food dollars within the community, by providing the best-freshest, seafood available to the consumer, delivering seafood in a business model which most benefits the local fishermen, and doing it all in sustainable, harmonious way.”
And that’s coming from someone with generations of family involved in Gloucester’s fishing industry.
If you’re ready to minimize the middleman, support your local fishing industry, and even scale a fish yourself, maybe it’s time for you to join a CSF. Check out Local Pickins list of CSFS to see if one is your area.
Both photos courtesy of CAFC