The Local Food Report: Cape Ann Fresh Catch

So. Remember all that talk about CSAs in the spring? You know—the Community Supported Agriculture model where you fork over a bunch of cash in March, pay for the farmer's start up cost, and get a weekly pick-up of fresh fruits and veggies all season long?

Well, there's a new kid in town. Introducing... the CSF. Community Supported Fishery.

This is what Steve Parkes of Gloucester calls The Hand Off. In which, a formerly sane man or woman agrees to show up on a specified day at a specified time once a week to meet a refrigerated truck and take home a plastic bag full of whole fish. Tails swing at faces, coolers and ice are packed into trunks, and at home, puzzlement ensues.

The thing about applying the CSA model to fish is that produce is no whole animal. People are accustomed to handling boxes of spinach and carrots and pears. These days, heck, they even know what to do with celeriac! Most people are not, however, entirely clear on the matter of how to gut and fillet whole fish. (My lovely, 600-pound-tuna-spattered fiancé being the exception.)

Teaching people how to deal with their pick-up has been the biggest challenge for Cape Ann Fresh Catch, the CSF I visited in Ipswich a few weeks back. It was started by the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association and the Northwest Marine Alliance in an attempt to boost fishermen's income, and also to get fresh, just-off-the-boat, sustainably caught fish direct to consumers. They opened the truck doors in June, and so far, over 800 families have signed up.

Each member gets a weekly bag of whatever the 10 full-time local fishermen catch. A share costs $380 for 12 weeks, and there are stops in places every day of the week—Harvard Square, Acton, Ipswich, Gloucester, Marblehead, Cambridge, and a few others. Parkes—who calls himself the Boat to Fork Coordinator—is hoping they'll be able to do at least three sessions and go almost year round. It's tricky in February and March, he says, because weather makes it tough for the boats to get out, but otherwise, he and the fishermen are hoping to make a full-time gig of the thing. There are a few volunteers that help him out at each stop, too, checking names off of clipboards and sussing out what each family prefers of the day's choices.

There aren't always options, of course. For a while when things first started up, the catch of the day was all cod, all the time for quite a few weeks. But the other day when I talked with Parkes, every member could choose between flounder with whiting or cod with whiting, and they seemed pretty pleased overall.

The thing about a CSF is, the fishermen do the bulk of the choosing for you. They decide which species to go after—which are less fished out, which are in season, which are at their peak this time of year. Some weeks, there might be all kinds of options. Others, off Cape Ann at least, cod might be the only one. It means that as a member you might not always get something different, but you will always get what is freshest and best. Most days, Parkes says, the fish he delivers was caught that morning, and a few times this summer, it was so just-out-of-the-sea it hadn't even gone into rigor mortis yet.

The exciting thing is, this week, the guys from Gloucester—Parkes and the fishermen and the organizers over at the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association—are all coming down to Chatham to talk with folks here about bringing the model south. The idea has been slowly moving down the coast—it started, after all, with a bunch of shrimp fishermen in Port Clyde, Maine—and finally, it's getting to us. We'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

P.S. A friend of mine actually did a radio piece on the CSF in Port Clyde, which is well worth listening to, especially if you're interested in the history and politics behind the idea. If you click on the link up there and scroll down, you can hear her segment on her blog.


Green Island Farm said...

This is so cool - thanks for reporting on this. Wish we had one on the Vineyard, but maybe we can look into yours on the Cape a little more when it gets started.

Elspeth said...

Hi Susie:

I haven't heard yet if anything came of the conversation...it is a great idea, though, and something I would love to be a part of as well. Maybe you should start one out there?!


Anonymous said...

I am a member of the Cape Ann freshcatch and so far I love it. Yes...there have some moments of discomfort, "what to do with this 3 ft., 8 lb. cod, staring up at me?"....but the finished products have more than made up for them. (Chowder, fish cakes, breaded baked filets!!!)
I hope that they continue to be successful. Have you heard anything more about bringing the csf south??

Elspeth said...

anonymous, i haven't heard any more news about the csf moving this way. i can, however, just imagine myself at the counter wondering the same thing about a fish that size! good on you, as they say...

all the best,

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