South Shore Seafood Exchange Inc. or more affectionately known by its racy acronym “SOSSEXI”, went from a cool idea batted around in a drafty church hall at a South Shore Locavores meeting in February, to passing out beautiful bags of fresh pollock, flounder, haddock and whiting from the back of a refrigerator truck in Jay Silva’s driveway this past Friday in the unseasonably sweltering heat.
As an avid recreational fisherman, and a writer who has written about Community Supported Fisheries, or CSF’s, I had attended the Locavores meeting in February, listened to the discussion in the room, and walked away being skeptical that a CSF could ever get up and running in our region, let alone in a mere four months. There are so many steps to getting fresh fish onto the boat and into our kitchens; the regulatory requirements to enforce quotas, conservation, health codes and revenue, to name a few, seemed like they would interminably stall the process.
Nevertheless, with a mixture of Yankee Ingenuity and the unflagging determination of a salmon swimming upstream, several individuals made this happen. A special thanks is due especially to Jay, Marj Bates, and Frank Mirachi, who cut through all the red tape (cue up Cake’s “Short Skirt, Long Jacket”), and got 48 of us shareholders the best fish our local waters have to offer.
Jay and Marj worked tirelessly for the past few months constructing a website, opening Paypal accounts, drumming up shareholders, and working with the Town of Scituate and other regulatory agencies to ensure SOSSEXI matched the framework for a legitimate CSF. Working with Niaz Dorry, Director of the North American Marine Alliance (NAMA), Jay and Marj were able to get the guidance needed to have SOSSEXI mirror the highly successful North Shore CSF, Cape Ann Fresh Catch, that Niaz helped develop.
Finally, all that was needed were a few local fishermen to agree to give SOSSEXI a chance. Frank Mirachi, a venerable local fisherman who has been fishing commercially out of Scituate for decades, reeled in Phil Lynch and Kevin Norton, and suddenly the dream of a local CSF was about to become reality. The nuts and bolts of planning and implementing a CSF are not “sexy” but they are worth mentioning, because all of the planning drudgery of the past few months performed by many people, most especially Jay, Marj, and Frank, was done at no financial gain.
I thought of this as I headed over to Jay’s house in Scituate, site of our first scheduled pick-up, this past Friday. The plan each week was for Frank, Phil, or Kevin to motor out in their trawlers to Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagon as they normally would on either Wednesday or Thursday, and bring home their regular commercial catch as well as a Neptune’s “dealer’s choice” of fish for the as-of-now 48 shareholders in SOSSEXI’s CSF. The fish would be transferred to New Bedford for processing (since Scituate no longer has a processing facility), and after being gutted, filleted and bagged, would be driven back in ice-laden fish totes in the back of a refrigerated truck by…..you guessed it. Jay and Marj.
Jay had agreed to meet with me at 2:30, a half hour before the scheduled two hour pick up window, so we could chat about the goings-on and fill me in with the details necessary to write this blog. Arriving at his antique pale-yellow Colonial on Captain Pierce’s Way, I wondered if his house dated back to the grand sea-faring days of Scituate. I would have asked him, but no one was home. Not a problem. I would sit in my car under the shade of one of the huge oak trees bordering Jay’s property and get some work done. As the clock ticked closer and closer to 3:00, I began to worry. I thought about the feedback received from shareholders in other CSF’s (or CSA’s, for that matter), many of whom want to be supportive of their local fisherman or farmer, but who also want the streamlined efficiencies of big business.
Another car pulled up, and I assumed it was a fellow shareholder. A man my parents’ age stepped out and immediately came over to introduce himself as Bill Weber, retired English teacher from Scituate high School. Jay had roped his friend, Bill, into helping with that day’s distribution. As we were chatting about what books Bill used to teach in his English class (the perennial favorites “Catcher in the Rye” and “Brave New World”, amongst others), Bill’s cell phone rang. It was Jay and Marj, calling en route in the refrigerated box truck, caught in traffic somewhere between Scituate and New Bedford (or New Beige, as the Portuguese fishermen call it). They were running about an hour late. Uh-oh. That would push pick-up off till 4:00. How would the shareholders arriving in the interim be made aware of this?
I told Bill I needed to zip to the Y in Hanover to get my daughter from camp, but that I would return after that. Raiding my kids’ art box in the back seat of my car, Bill and I wrote a quick note on a manilla folder with a Sharpie informing the shareholders of the holdup and beseeching them their patience. As we were propping it against the stone wall at the bottom of the driveway, the first shareholder arrived on her bike. We informed her of the delay, and to my pleasant surprise, on this unusually steamy day living in our fast-paced world where we now expect instantaneous service and gratification, she didn’t bat an eye. Bill and I found out she is also a teacher in Kingston, and that although she now lives in Scituate, she is training to bike across her home state of Iowa later this summer, so she figured she’d just explore a little more on her bike while she waited.
A shiny BMW pulled up next, and a woman my age with her young daughter, fresh from a pedicure, stepped out. She was equally agreeable to the delay, and expressed that she was excited about participating in the CSF that she had caught wind of from her mother through the Town webpage. I asked the little girl if she was looking forward to having fresh fish for dinner, to which she warily nodded yes. Her mother informed me both her children were looking forward to each week’s CSF offering, and upon talking a little more, it became clear both her children and my children have graduated from the same “culinary academy”, with their love of filet mignon, lobster chowder, and other high-end fare. Clearly, whiting and butterfish would not phase these kids.
Right before I had to zip off to the Y, a gentleman with a thick Spanish accent arrived, and upon querying him as to where he was from, he told us Cuba. It’s worth noting that Mr. Alvarez, as he introduced himself, is now on the hook to provide us with some Cuban recipes to accompany our fish offerings in the next few months. We will hold him to that delicious promise!
Driving to pick up my daughter, I realized part of the fun of the CSF was in meeting these interesting people and chatting with them, something that would probably not occur at the fish counter in the supermarket, or even in a local fish store. Returning an hour later, the refrigerated truck was in the driveway, and Jay and Marj, with Bill helping, were handing out the four different fish to a throng of participants. The mood was festive , people sharing recipe ideas or querying each other as to what they got from the totes. I ran into Laurie and Michael, the publishers of edible South Shore, who had rolled with the punches of the earlier delay by driving to the “packie” and grabbing a twelve pack of Becks to enjoy with the haddock they had received. Cheers!
The Iowa biker was placing a ziplock with a huge fillet of pollock in the soft-pack cooler she had rigged to her bike, while another woman walked by with a dozen fresh whiting the size of trout in her bag. I approached the truck and wondered what I’d get; Jay was making the dealer’s selection. Serendipitously, I received twelve beautiful, pale, firm, fresh flounder fillets. The back story here is that my family and I had been relentlessly fishing for flounder in the North and South River for three weekends in a row to no avail. The only way to get fresher fish than participating in this CSF is to catch it yourself, and even then there is no guarantee you’ll head home with something to eat.
That night I invited some friends over, and we cracked open a couple of chilled bottles of Saint-Peyre Picpoul de Pine (2 for $18 at Blanchard’s). My husband cooked the flounder as simply as possible, dipped first in milk, then in flour with a shake of salt and pepper, and fried in a hot pan with butter and a little vegetable oil. Served hot with lemon wedges and a cool salad on the side, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better summertime meal.
There are 48 shareholders right now, but Jay is hoping we can get three times that number to really make this work. The first week of the SOSSEXI CSF can be summed up with one word: patience. Think back to your childhood when you may first have learned how to fish and had to live by the word patience; good things come to those who wait.
Submitted by Kathleen Wright.