Originally published in the Summer 2015 edition of The WaveBefore the “farm to table” trend became so fetishized, it was just the way people naturally ate. Sixty years ago in Maine, it was just called, “Junior, get your hide out there, pick those fiddleheads and bring ‘em to the kitchen table.” Jump ahead to the 2000s. Maine farmers have been successful in connecting with chefs and restaurateurs, who’ve latched on to the just-harvested herb or vegetable and transformed it to a thing of beauty on the plate. And that in turn, has spurred consumers to buy directly from farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)s.
However, that hasn’t always been the case for Maine’s other prolific frontier, the ocean.
“The farmers are about 30 years ahead of the fishermen in terms of connecting with consumers,” said Ben Martens, executive director of Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “Here we have a fantastic protein source from the Gulf of Maine, that is sustainably harvested, delicious and right at our back door.”
Over the years, there’s been a disconnect in getting local fish to local people, particularly because fish sold at grocery stores has come from so many places.
“I think a lot of people are wary of buying fish, because there’s a lot of information and misinformation,” said Martens.
This topic prompted Maine-based executive chef Barton Seaver, author of For Cod and Country, at this year’s Fishermen’s Forum.
“We have moved away from the Catch of the Day mentality,” he said. “The fact is, we so demand cod that we’re not willing to eat pollock, haddock, hake, cusk, Ling, wolf, monk, dog, or skates — even though it costs the fisherman the same amount of effort, fuel and labor to land that fish. From a culinary perspective, it is equally as valuable and from a health perspective, it equally serves the purpose of a nutritious dinner.”
Everything started to shift in 2007 when Port Clyde Fresh Catch was established, becoming the first organization in the U.S. to start a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) similar to the farm model where the community pre-buys a “share” that can be picked up. Soon, fisheries from Portland to Gloucester to Cape Cod, began following the model. Maine’s fishermen have been getting in on the boat-to-plate localvore scene, often filleting and selling that fresh fish to the consumer the day it is caught.
The trend is only going to pick up more steam as the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association in Topsham just got a $175,000 federal grant to develop a program that will let consumers know not only where and when seafood was caught, but even identify the fisherman who caught it.
“The majority of fish are bought through supermarkets in Maine,” said Martens. “Our goal is to find ways to help the general public have more access to more types of locally and sustainably caught fish.”
Currently, they are planning on working both Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Hannaford Supermarkets to develop a seafood-tracking system with with this grant. One of the ideas kicking around is to do more in-store food demos. They’re also focusing on technology to allow shoppers can use smartphone to find out where and when fish was caught.
“They may be able to scan a package with their phone and up pops a story about the fisherman who actually caught that fish and a recipe on how to cook it.”
FMI: visit portclydefreshcatch.com
The Killer Convo
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