She came a-rattling upriver, a battered old trawler bucking a stiff ebb tide. She was plywood and fiberglass but there was an angular beauty about her. Crude blue letters on the prow bore her name: PIF. Her nets were doubled to the outriggers and tied clear of the water, like a tall woman hitches a long dress when she walks barefoot in the rain.
Captain Billy was at the wheel. I cannot tell you of a time when I did not know him. Back in high school we both wanted to run off shrimping. I figured to go to college first, then come back and quote Shakespeare while I pulled the nets, you know, “full fathom five” and all that. Billy reckoned to get right to it. He did but I got sidetracked. I was blessed to run boats from the Bahamas to Hudson Bay, but I never pulled a net. Forty-odd years later, standing on the end of that dock waiting for the PIF, I was fixing to get my chance.
This is an excerpt from the article published in the March/April 2009 issue of Orion. Purchase this issue, take advantage of our free trial offer ($19 for six gorgeous issues) for the print magazine, or subscribe to the equally beautiful digital edition ($10 for six issues) for the full text.
The Boston Globe
Buying local goes offshore
Fishermen’s group aims at consumers
By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / February 15, 2009
Inspired by a survival strategy used by farmers, a Seabrook-N.H.-based fishermen’s group hopes to tap into the growing consumer interest in fresh, locally produced food.
The Yankee Fishermen’s Coop recently launched an effort to sell some of the fish landed by its 61 members to local consumers at farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and other venues. Until now, the 18-year-old co-op has sold its fish almost entirely to wholesale buyers, primarily in Boston and Portland, Maine.
“We’ve been trying to figure out how we can get a little bit more money back into the pockets of fishermen,” said co-op manager Bob Campbell. Due to the federal restrictions on fishing, “It’s getting harder and harder every year for them to make a living.”
He said the co-op noticed how farmers have benefited from the burgeoning appetite for buying local, including through community-supported agriculture programs, in which consumers buy a share of the harvest prior to each growing season. Campbell said his group wondered if that approach might work for fishermen.
The effort got off to a promising start Feb. 7 when the co-op took part in a winter farmers’ market in Exeter.
Unsure of how much product to bring to the four-hour market held inside a local church, the co-op settled on 500 pounds of shrimp packaged in five and 10-pound bags, and 100 pound-and-a-quarter lobsters.
“It took us 35 minutes before we were sold out of shrimp. It was amazing,” Campbell said, noting, “We probably could have sold three times that amount.” He said about 90 of the 100 lobsters were sold.
Based on that success, Campbell said the co-op intends to continue selling at farmers’ markets, including another winter market scheduled for March 7 at Stratham Town Hall. It has also been in discussions with a local supermarket chain interested in selling the co-op’s fish. The co-op would also like to sell its fish to local restaurants.
Selling locally offers a financial boost to the co-op’s fishermen, Campbell said, because prices can exceed what it receives from its regular wholesalers.
He noted that its prices at farmers’ markets will still be below what consumers can find in stores.
“And we can definitely guarantee the quality. It’s all fresh,” he said, adding that with freshness comes better taste.
Ken La Valley, a commercial fisheries specialist with New Hampshire Sea Grant and the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, is assisting the co-op with its initiative.
The New Hampshire Sea Grant is a federally funded marine science research group. Both programs are based at the UNH campus in Durham.
“I think it’s a promising endeavor,” said La Valley, whose office hooked up the co-op with Seacoast Eat Local, the group that runs the Exeter and other winter farmers’ markets in the area. He has also helped the co-op secure needed permits to participate in the markets.
“It may not be paying large economic dividends right now, but . . . for fishermen to be able to tell their stories and be seen in a positive light, you can’t put a price on that,” said La Valley, who attended the Exeter farmer’s market.
La Valley said selling locally is a good way to go for fishermen because “people are interested in sustainable resources, buying locally,” adding, of the Exeter event, “The outpouring of the public at that farmers’ market was just unbelievable.”
La Valley said one possible model for the Seabrook co-op is a fishermen’s co-op in Port Clyde, Maine. The group has initiated a community-supported fisheries program in which it sells shares in the harvest in the same way that farms with community supported agriculture programs do.
Campbell, who visited the Port Clyde co-op with La Valley, said the Yankee Fishermen’s Coop is exploring the idea of offering a similar program.
Sara Zoe Patterson, coordinator of Seacoast Eat Local, said the fishermen are a welcome addition to her group’s winter markets.
An ad hoc community group, Seacoast Eat Local works to connect people with local foods. In addition to running the winter markets, it publishes a local food guide.
“People are anxious to eat our local seafood . . . but they didn’t know how to do it,” she said. “So being able to provide that direct access to local fish is really important to us.”
Patterson, whose group had publicized beforehand that fish would be offered at the Exeter market, said the fishermen’s presence may have boosted attendance – 1,111 people turned out, compared with 850 at a market in January in Stratham.
“This is sort of a pent-up market,” she said. “People want to buy directly from fishermen. So they came out in droves.”