Boat-to-Table Fishing CSAs Are Catching On

Fishing communities from Maine to California are working together to save their way of life and restore marine resources by establishing direct markets between fishermen and the people who eat their catch.

Several years ago, concerns about dwindling worldwide fish stocks prompted federal regulators to limit how much fish can be caught in U.S. waters, but the measures don't regulate who catches the fish. Small-scale fishermen in the North Atlantic region were hit particularly hard by regulations, because they were competing in the global market with domestic and international industrial-scale factory fleets and aquaculture companies.

Factory fleets can process and freeze large quantities of fish while still at sea, giving them a big advantage over smaller fishermen.

"All of a sudden everybody got out, and those of us who stayed didn't have anywhere or anyone to sell to," says Gary Libby, a fisherman based in Port Clyde, Maine.

"The old model of catching as much as you could just wasn't working any longer," says Libby's wife, Kim. Inspired by fishermen in North Carolina, who sell directly to the public off their boats, she started the first CSF, or Community Supported Fishery, from their home in Port Clyde in 2007.

CSF shareholders pay up front for a share of the catch. Most CSFs deliver whole fish in season, so customers experience variety and seasonality. Fishermen are paid a flat rate per season, rather than being paid only for the number of fish they catch. This encourages them to diversify their catch and fish according to the demands of the ecosystem, rather than to maximize sales.

According to the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA), which works on policy to support small-scale fishing, nearly 20 other communities across North America have been inspired by the Port Clyde experience to start their own CSFs.

"It makes people feel good to know their fisherman," Libby remarks. He says no one left in the small-boat community-based fishing business in New England is in it for the money. "Bringing a high-quality product to consumers they wouldn't ordinarily have is the real reward."

Interested? Visit NAMA for a list of CSFs in the Northeast.

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