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Buy a share of a fresh, sustainable fish catch

A Massachusetts-based nonprofit is based on same concept as community-supported agriculture, except in this case members purchase a share of a fishing season, rather than a harvest of vegetables.

By Cathryn J. PrinceContributor / August 21, 2012

Fisherman Vince Taormina, captain of the Miss Sandy, unloads his catch in Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts. A group called Cape Ann Fresh Catch helps consumers buy local, sustainable fish species by purchasing weekly shares in the catch.

Courtesy of Cape Ann Fresh Catch

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GLOUCESTER, Mass.

Fresh bluefish: It’s what’s for dinner.

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A delicious fish dinner doesn't mean just making a choice between haddock, cod, or some other well-known species.

“We sell fish [that] people didn’t think they’d like, like bluefish,” says Heather Fraelick, a marketing specialist at Cape Ann Fresh Catch in Gloucester, Mass. “People have very strong opinions of bluefish." The key is to cook it while it's still fresh from the ocean.

When it comes to bluefish, and other less popular species, Cape Ann Fresh Catch (CAFC), a community-supported fishery, wants to change people’s minds one catch at a time. That’s why CAFC boasts it offers “local sustainably-caught wicked-fresh seafood.”

The key words here are fresh and sustainable, Ms. Fraelick says.

CAFC is based on same concept as community-supported agriculture, except in this case members purchase a share of a fishing season, rather than a harvest of vegetables. The program benefits local fishermen, the environment, and consumers, who delight in dining on fresh-caught seafood from the Gulf of Maine, Fraelick says.

Because of Gloucester’s proximity to Georges Bank and other rich fishing banks off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland the town remains one of the principle fishing ports in the United Statesas well as one of the oldest. CAFC helps fish populations stay at healthy levels because the nonprofit group promotes consumption of less popular fish species, including hake and whiting.

CAFC benefits from the participation of several nonprofit organizations, including the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, both based in Gloucester. They see CAFC as one more way help preserve the Atlantic Ocean as a food supply.

“The idea is building healthier oceans and working with fishing communities to achieve goals,” says Brett Tolley, a community organizer and policy advocate for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.

A community-supported fishery also benefits small-scale fishermen, who have difficulty competing against large-scale industrial fleets, says Mr. Tolley, who comes from a family with four generations of fishermen.

CAFC members purchase shares one season at a time. Distribution points include towns throughout Massachusetts, including West Gloucester, Salem, Ipswich, and Cambridge. CAFC also sells to several restaurants, including Farmstead Table in Newton, Mass., and Turner Fisheries in Boston.

Between 20 and 30 fishermen participate. CAFC averages 30,000 pounds of fish harvested in a season.

Selling underutilized fish species also benefits the local economy. “We’re a buffer for fishermen,” Fraelick says. “The fishermen know they will get a fair price for their fish.”

This matters more than ever to Gloucester fishermen. Whole Foods, which operates a fish-processing plant in Pigeon Cove in Rockport, Mass., on Cape Ann, announced last spring that it will no longer sell trawl-caught Atlantic cod, skate, and gray sole. The supermarket chain said it was following the recommendations of environmental groups such as the Blue Ocean Institute in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif.

But basing seafood purchases exclusively on the type of gear used to catch fish "doesn’t get to the heart of the issue,” Tolley argues. “There is no halo about any [type of] gear". What's needed, he says, is to keep fishing economically viable for the "smaller-scale, ecologically minded fisherman.”

CAFC offers shares of either whole fish, fillets, or a combination of the two. Those who choose a weekly delivery of whole fish receive four to six pounds for $21.50 a week. Or participants can choose two pounds of fillets at $25.50 a week. Some members opt to receiver fillets one week and whole fish the next at $23.50 a week.

In addition, CAFC members can specify the species of fish they receive. Kosher households, for example, won’t receive monkfish or other non-kosher species. People diagnosed with allergies to certain species, such as bluefish or mackerel, can opt out of receiving them.

CAFC is also trying to get the word out that there are more delicious species of fish in the sea that many people think. “I don’t think the seafood industry in New England has done a good job marketing fish [species] that are less popular,” Fraelick says. “It is challenging, but we go to as many events as possible to do outreach.”

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