PORT CLYDE, MAINE — On Sunday morning, Kim Libby drives a load of Maine shrimp, fresh off the fifty-seven-foot dragger boat the Leslie and Jessica, to a snowy parking lot in Rockland where customers await a share of the harvest. The small, succulent, pink shrimp, caught less than twenty-four hours ago in the icy, winter waters of the Gulf of Maine, are so tender and sweet they can be eaten raw.
Libby’s weekly delivery is part of an effort by fishermen in Port Clyde, the Midcoast Fishermen’s Association, who have banded together with the hopes of saving a working-class fishing community, a fast-disappearing way of life. Scientists continue to predict declines in fish stocks. Farmed seafood drives shrimp prices down, and Maine’s waterfront land values continue to rise. Offshore, large trawler boats catch greater quantities of seafood for fewer processors, and the market rewards these high-volume and low-quality catches. “We’re basically fishing ourselves out of existence,” says Craig Pendleton, a Maine shrimp fisherman.
For years, fishermen have been looking for ways to make more money harvesting fewer fish. In 2007, spurred by fishery and farm advocacy groups, the Port Clyde fishermen decided to take their catch directly to consumers and began the Community Supported Fishery (CSF), modeled directly after the land-based success, Community Supported Agriculture. During the fourteen-week season, consumers paying $189 receive ten pounds weekly of fresh, head-on northern shrimp — $1.35 a pound. The economies of the CSF make sense for both the fishermen, who would get about a third of that price from a processor, and consumers, who would pay slightly more per pound at the supermarket. In addition, the small, diversified fleet is working on changes to their nets to prevent by-catch and would like to become the first biodiesel-powered fleet in the world. “We’re trying to fish in a different way,” Libby says. “We want high-quality product that we own from dock to plate.”
Still, CSFs face significant hurdles, from regulations concerning the distribution of raw, unprocessed seafood, to the need for consumer education. “The average consumer doesn’t know what to do with a whole head-on fish,” says Jennifer Plummer, coordinator with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, a fishing advocacy group. Nevertheless, the Port Clyde fishermen added a twelve-week summer share this year, which includes a variety of traditional New England groundfish, as well as tutorials on filleting.
CSF organizers say their innovative program addresses the unique challenges of sustaining working waterfront communities in an era when many fisheries are depleted. The CSF fosters relationships between consumers and fishermen, both of whom have a vested interest in the ocean’s vitality — especially when it means fresh, local seafood.