I recently attended a Sustainable South Shore meeting in Norwell on February 2 at the request of Laurie, my editor here at eSS. The purpose of the meeting was to get a discussion going to try and figure out how we can get a CSF (Community Supported Fishery) started on our South Shore and Coast, and Laurie thought I might be interested since she’s had me write a couple of articles on this subject for the magazine and since she knows I and my family are avid fishermen.
Although it was a relatively small group in attendance, just around twenty people, you would have been hard-pressed to come up with a more savvy and knowledgeable group than those present. Ed Barrett, Frank Mirarchi, and Steve Welch three of the South Shore’s best and most recognized commercial fishermen from Plymouth and Scituate, were there representing the fishing community. Several Directors from local Sustainable South Shore chapters represented the eventual shareholders of a possible South Shore CSF, and several members of the local press, including me, were there to spread the news. Rounding out the evening’s attendees is CSF “Subject Matter Specialist” Niaz Dorry.
If you have a CSF question, all roads eventually lead to Niaz, who is the Director of North Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA). She and her organization were influential in getting the most-recognized and successful local CSF, Cape Ann Fresh Catch (CAFC) in Gloucester, up and running. To have these men and women in attendance shows a serious commitment to addressing the issues as to whether we on the South Shore and Coast will one day be able to participate in a CSF.
For those just tuning in to the discussion, a CSF is similar to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), in which a farmer sells a share of this season’s harvest in exchange for much-needed up-front capital to run his business. In the case of a CSF, the shareholder receives a share of a fisherman’s catch. The similarities don’t end there: you get what’s in season, whether it’s fruit and vegetables for a CSA or fish and shellfish in a CSF. By directly connecting the food supplier to the consumer and doing away with the middleman, everyone (except the middleman!) wins. The fisherman gets a far better price for his fish, and the consumer gets a fresher piece of fish.
Consider the night of our meeting. Ben Cowie-Haskell, Sustainable South Shore President, had just purchased a cod in the round (whole fish gutted on the boat) earlier that day from a market in Brant Rock. I’m sure he thought he was buying a fish that couldn’t have been any fresher unless he had caught it himself. In fact, since I am from Marshfield as well, I know you could throw a rock from the front door of this fish market and it would land in the ocean right across the way.
Imagine our surprise when the fishermen informed us that cod may very well have been caught right off Georges Bank and been offloaded in Green Harbor, but more than likely it was picked up by a fish distributor, shipped to the fish auction in either Boston or New Bedford, and then bought by the fish market and shipped back down to Marshfield.
To understand the difficulties facing our community when it comes to getting a CSF started is to understand the circuitous route of this cod. For the eager consumer with cash in his wallet and a fillet knife in his knife block, it’s almost inconceivable he cannot go to his local fish pier when the fishermen come in, and for an agreed upon price have his pick of any fish in the boat’s hold. As Ed and Frank confirmed, it is against the law for fishermen to sell directly to consumers at the dock.
There are government regulations in place to record and weigh in a fisherman’s catch to make sure we’re not depleting our natural resources, and there are health regulations in place to ensure one of our most highly perishable foods, seafood, is delivered safely to consumers. Enter the seafood processor, or that pesky middleman, to record the catch and to load all those fish totes onto his refrigerated truck to bring the fish to auction and then to the restaurants and markets and finally to the consumer.
We no longer have fish processing facilities on our South Shore, so in order to have a viable CSF, we would need to address that issue first and foremost. How do we go about bringing back a processing facility on the South Shore? Or, if we were able to work out of coolers and sell fish on a much smaller scale, who would record the information required by the government regulating industries?
Niaz gently reminded everyone in the audience that the fishermen are much like the farmers: they are up at the crack of dawn and they don’t finish their days until evening, and don’t forget, their days are physically demanding and grueling. As much as the fishermen would like to see a CSF formed to supplement or even provide their income, they will not be the ones taking the lead on this endeavor. Furthermore, after years of government regulations that seem to change with each turn of the tide, the fishermen are understandably skeptical and leery of any new idea to “save their industry.”
Niaz brought up that there are grants available that might be able to provide some of the seed money to start up a CSF, but someone needs to write them. Then, someone will need to administer the shares, run the finances, and oversee the business.
The Sustainable representatives at the meeting were vocal about their interest in a CSF, and I have no doubts they can drum up a number of people on the South Shore and Coast who would love to participate in a CSF. There are fish in the sea, fishermen with boats, people who can provide expertise on how to start a CSF, and people with money and a desire to help the local fisherman. Despite the obstacles and moving targets, it seems there has to be a way we can make this work on the South Shore and Coast.
Stay tuned. This discussion, although daunting, is in the preliminary phases. I wish I had a good fish quote to end with, but I’ll have to inspire you with flora rather than fauna: “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
Written by Kathleen Fitzpatrick-Wright