When Your Friends Ask What’s so Great About a CSF, What are You Going to Say?

SOSSEXI Blog 7/20/12 

I’ve recently had a few people ask me how a CSF works and “what’s so great about it?”  I know most of our participants have been lured to the SOSSEXI CSF because we want the guarantee of the freshest fish we can get short of catching it ourselves, we want the diversity of whatever the net brings up, and we want to help the fisherman who we know has been fighting an uphill battle to keep his boat and pay his bills despite putting in long and grueling hours each and every day. What are the inner-workings of a CSF, though? This is the question I get from people all the time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my fellow shareholders are getting the same questions from their friends. So we can answer succinctly, here’s a CSF refresher course.

When we signed on to SOSSEXI, we were in essence buying a share in a business. For an upfront payment of either $250 or $500, we were guaranteed a certain poundage of fish per week for a certain time period. We knew we were going to get something super-fresh; we just didn’t know what it was going to be week from week, which in itself was a draw for many shareholders.

From the fishermen’s perspective, the CSF provides three distinct benefits. The first is cash up front, which can provide much-needed capital for repairs, equipment or gas. The second is the fishermen no longer have to target just one species to stay in business. In the past, if the market price for haddock was substantially higher than hake, the fishermen targeted haddock even if hake were more abundant. In a CSF, the shareholder has already agreed to accept whatever is pulled from the net, which means far less pressure on one fish stock. This level of flexibility by the consumer truly helps ensure the sustainability of the fish and the industry; fishermen can fish for what is plentiful rather than for what is popular.

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Finally and most importantly to the fishermen, a CSF provides a guaranteed fixed price per pound of fish, and any fisherman will tell you that represents the biggest benefit. Think of all the episodes of “Deadliest Catch”, “Swords, Life on the Line” or “Tuna Wars” you’ve seen where part of the battle to the fisherman is to see who can get the fish back to the dock first. The first fishermen to steam in with their catch get the most dollars per pound, and as supply increases, the price per pound drops. Not so with the CSF. The fishermen have received a fixed price per pound from the shareholders on day one, and they receive all of that money, as there are no middlemen taking a cut.

Our fishermen are not just fishing for SOSSEXI, though. Frank, Phil, Kevin, and as of this past week, Ron and Mark Gustafson of the Cheryl Ann continue to fish commercially for all of the other hungry seafood eaters in Massachusetts who are demanding flounder, cod and haddock at this time of year. What differentiates you from these other consumers is you have demonstrated a willingness to eat whatever comes from the net, rather than demanding just cod or haddock. You are helping to promote sustainable fishing by eating what is seasonal, local and plentiful.

This last point is especially important this week. I have come to realize that much like with real fishing, the earlier you get to The Roman Table to pick up your weekly share, the better chance you have of hooking up with some different fish. When I arrived for my share this week, I had just missed the last skate wings, and instead was given a packet of flounder and a packet of whiting. I overheard someone ask the question, “Isn’t skate on the watch list as overfished and should we not be eating it?”

I answered that question in my head by saying “Heck no! There’s plenty of skate out there.” I am basing that comment on my own personal fishing experience. There is rarely a time when we are fishing in front of the North River when we don’t hook up again (and again, and again!) with skate, no matter what time of year. Now this is certainly not a scientific explanation, so I zipped home and went on to NOAA’s “Fish Watch” page and checked out what they had to say about skate. They list the skate as abundant in our waters, and actually, it’s one of the few species that is in an uptick. (NOAA is our governing body that oversees fish catch, so I encourage you to check out this site if you are concerned about sustainability).

By contrast, the Monterey Bay Aquarium website, which in recent years has gained a reputation for being a good source to go to when you want to see what fish are sustainable, lists skate as a fish to avoid. They base their rating not on the fact that the fish stocks are high, but on the fishing practices implemented. Skate are often caught using trawlers, which can wreak havoc on the ocean floor. I remember interviewing one of our fishermen, Frank Mirarchi, for an edible South Shore article a couple years ago and we were talking about how our ground fishery industry was changing for the better, with new nets that were raised off the ocean floor to minimize impact. Yes, the fishing industry is not perfect, but as consumers (and conservationists), we need to weigh the lesser of evils. In the example of skate, it is abundant in our waters, it is local, and if we eat it, we’re not wasting it as a dead by-catch that gets thrown overboard.

Please think about our four small boats heading out, just 12 miles this week for Mark Gustafson on the Cheryl Ann, and not using the massive amounts of gas to steam to far-reaching fishing grounds, or to fly “abundant” fish half way around the world so we can feel good that we ate a “sustainable” fish. Remember that these men are fishing for and catching fish that is seasonal, local and abundant, according to NOAA’s ratings, our governing body. So these are the facts when your friends ask you about our SOSSEXI CSF. Keep up the good work: we now have almost 70 members!

Submitted by Kathleen Wright

About eSS&SC

The South Shore and South Coast has been home to hunting, gathering, fishing, farming––and great eating––for over 10,000 years. We are committed to identifying, devouring, and sharing all that Southeastern Massachusetts has to offer today and preserving local options for future generations.
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