Community Supported Fisheries
In this new program, VSI is working to create a more direct and transparent connection between artisanal fishermen and the people who want to buy their fish.
How it works
A fisherman on the Atlantic or Pacific coast packs his catch on ice and express-mails it directly to a handful of organic farms that have existing Community Supported Agriculture programs. At the farm, the catch is unpacked but kept on ice. That same day, CSA pick-up occurs: the farm’s regular customers swing buy to get their box of vegetables. CSA members who have signed up and paid in advance also receive an allocation of fresh seafood. It’s a lot like a CSA, but it’s for sustainably caught seafood.
Each organic farm is connected with a handful of fishermen. This provides some variety for CSF subscribers: they don’t receive the same seafood every week. And yet, because each farm works with no more than a handful of fishermen, an authentic relationship can develop among the host farmers, their CSF members, and the fishermen they support. The farmers offer CSF members information about their partnered fishermen: the waters they fish; the communities they live in; and the methods they use. With their fishermen’s help, farmers might even offer CSF members some guidance on how to shuck an oyster, cook a flounder, or clean a squid. Many members of traditional CSAs have learned how wonderful it can be to know the farmer who grows your vegetables. In the same way, it can be enriching to know the fishermen who catch your fish.
Why it’s good for fishermen
This program gives fishermen a way of directly reaching customers who place value on sustainable methods. A shrimper in the bayous of Louisiana who uses hand-nets, causing virtually zero collateral damage, should not have to dump his precious catch into the market with shrimp from enormous trawlers that take ten times as much by-catch as shrimp. At present, though, that’s just what happens. But if that hand-seine shrimper could just make direct contact with the right customers, they would happily pay a small premium for his product. The same story could be told around many different catches. Environmental sustainability is not presently reflected in the purchase price, and it ought to be.
Why it’s good for consumers
Customers get fish that was in the ocean yesterday. And they also get to know a lot more about where their seafood comes from.
No, it’s not totally local. But seafood is (and can continue to be) a small and healthy part of the diet of many people across the country. At present, these people—even the most careful, socially responsible consumers—buy their seafood at supermarkets. CSFs replace a fraction of that market with a system that is better for coastal communities, better for the ocean, and better for the conscientious consumer.
Recently, the number of supermarkets that carry some form of certified seafood has increased enormously. While the development of consumer conscience is surely a promising sign, the real meaning of certification programs varies enormously, from those that really do ensure sustainability to those that have far more relaxed standards. Sadly, as the market share of sustainably caught seafood has grown, standards have generally slipped. This program provides a reliably strict alternative.