Covid has helped connect small-scale fishermen to the emergency food web. Can the link last?
Catch Together normally exists to offer low interest loans to purchase fishing quotas which are then rented at an affordable price to community fishermen. But in early 2020, “we saw a total collapse that forced fishermen to stand still because prices were not supporting a harvest. It was a really scary time, ”said Paul Parker, President of Catch Together. Some state and local governments had started to relax regulations to help, such as allowing fishermen to sell “on the dock” (directly from the boat to customers). Nevertheless, many fisheries were still faced with abysmal market prices that did not justify their opening.
Parker raised $ 5 million in grants that Catch Together gave to community fishing organizations (or in some cases, directly to food banks). These groups then used the money to buy fish from small boat fishermen at a fair price, and to pay processors to prepare the catch for distribution. By the time most programs come to an end this month, approximately 1,780 fishers and allied workers will have been positively impacted. Nearly 2 million meals of freshly caught restaurant-grade haddock, cod, shrimp, salmon, sablefish and bycatch were also donated to frontline food groups. It has found its way into the hands of food insecure people in the form of home-cooking fillets, containers of fish chowder and take-out fish taco dinners.
The Portland, Maine fishery saw landed values drop by more than 70 percent when the pandemic struck. Meanwhile, “we were hearing horror stories from hungry people in Maine, which is already one of the most food insecure states in the Northeast,” said Ben Martens, director. executive of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA), which received a $ 240,000 grant from Catch Together and raised an additional $ 400,000. Together, the funds helped them distribute fresh and frozen fillets to several food banks in the region; 50 schools and after-school programs; and the Wabanaki, Angolan and Somali Bantu communities.
Martens thinks that local-fish-for-local-folks connection was overdue. “Immigrant communities are growing in Maine and this is a space that we in the seafood industry have neglected for a long time,” he said. “When we started talking to some of them, they were like, ‘We love fish, we miss fish! And they don’t just want the net, they want the whole thing [fish]. “