Monday, September 5, 2011

Most plants and animals adhere to a seasonal pattern of feeding and reproduction. Fish and other ocean bound animals are no exception. Most of the fish that you get from Cape Ann Fresh Catch (CAFC) spend the summer getting fat on the abundant prey of herring, sand eels, lobsters, juvelnile fish etc., that abound in our rich ewaters in the the summer months. That is why I find that fish tastes the best in the fall. Or shall I say fish feels the best in the fall, because really the difference is in the texture of the fish as much as any difference in the flavor of the fish.

One of the great things I have learned since I've been getting CAFC shares is how very different the same fish can taste at different times of the year. Again, its more of a texture difference than a taste difference, but once you have one of those sublime meals that are part and parcel of the CAFC experience, you'll know exactly what I mean. (I hope!)

For me personally, fall is when most of the fish are at their finest. I also find that New England's other land based harvest foods pair exceptionally well with fresh seafood. Its the best time of year to enjoy the hard work of the sun!

Healthy oceans and a secure source of day-boat fresh seafood are not guaranteed! Part of supporting a Community Supported Fishery is lending your voice to support the values you are supporting. If you care about CAFC please consider taking the pledge to support a diverse fleet. A critical vote to stop rapid uncontrolled consolidation of the local fleet is taking place in three weeks. Please consider signing a pledge to support your local community based fishermen.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fleet Diversity gets a boost

In the ongoing battle to protect the community based fishermen from being consolidated out of the fleet, a small but important victory happened last week. The Groundfish committee of the New England Fisheries Management Council voted to approve a scoping document that begins the formal process of initiating an amendment to Magnusen Stevens that will put protection in place for smaller vessels.

If that all sounds like fisheries gibberish, here it is in plain English: the people who make the fish rules voted to start working on rules to protect a diverse fleet.

The process is somewhat long and cumbersome, but this was an important step to get things going. NAMA (in case you are new here, NAMA is the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and we are one of the organizations that helped launch Cape Ann Fresh Catch and we continue to work very closely with CAFC. I, the primary author of this blog, am Sean Sullivan and I work for NAMA)...NAMA has worked hard to try to get regulators to listen to fishermen who are feeling pinched under catch shares. The primary complaints are that under catch shares they are under economic pressure to get big or get out. We know that the "get big" scenario doesn't work. In fact it can be argued that the whole problem of overfishing is the result of the governments last push to have the fleet "get big".

In any case, over 200 people signed a pledge to support Fleet Diversity. We are still encouraging people to sign the pledge to show fisheries managers that people care about who fishes matters.

Click here to read the pledge and add your name!

In other news, the new CAFC season will be coming along shortly. Fall is typically my favorite season for seafood. Much like terrrestrail plants and animals, fish are often the most "ripe" in the fall having eaten well all summer and adding reserves of fat. Most species will begin to put the feedbag on over the coming weeks and begin schooling up for their migrations. Almost all fish migrate to a certain extent whether it is from rocky shores to deep water, such as lobsters or from deep to inshore such as cod. In my opinion most fish species taste the best in the fall and have the best texture.

Lastly, NAMA has its own blog, and there is some interesting stuff there about fishy events around the area.

Monday, August 8, 2011

100 Dead Fish and Amendment 18

100 Dead fish are 100 dead fish. We can either have one large factory trawler catch all those fish or we can have a diverse fleet that is appropriately scaled to the size of the eco-system, that enriches our communities with local healthy food and provides more jobs.

Quite literally, as seafood consuming folks we have a say in how the fish we eat are caught. Most of us take for granted that there will be folks catching fish in New England from small vessels plying the harbors that dot the coastline of New England - because its been that way for four centuries. But as we look at the current state of the fishery:
  • Three permit holders control 41% of the George's Bank Winter Flounder (which is a choke species*)
  • The groundfish fleet lost 458 crew positions last year.
  • Vessels over 50 ft. increased landings by 8.4% and increased revenues 21.5%
  • Vessels under 50 ft. had landing drop 51.7% and decreased revenues of 34.2%
All of this points to a picture of consolidation of the fleet to larger and fewer vessels. There may always be small vessels plying the waters, but we should not take it for granted or before our eyes we could not only lose the small day-boat fleet and the jobs associated with it, but also the high quality seafood we have come to love at CAFC.

What can you do? Pledge to support a diverse fleet!

Over the coming months, the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) will debate Amendment 18 to the Magnusen Stevens Fishery Act about whether and how to enact regulations (many of which existed prior to the Catch Shares program) that will help preserve a diverse fleet through allocation caps, quota set-asides for new entrants and owner-operators and measures to foster an affordable fishery through leasing restrictions.

Without these controls in place, we are very likely to see the fleet consolidated further over the coming years, so please consider signing the pledge and lending your voice to a diverse fleet.

* Fishermen are allocated a variety of fish species to catch. Once they catch all of any single allocation they have they cannot fish anymore unless they lease allocations from another fisherman. "Choke species" then are the ones typically considered to be low in allocation.

For example, a fishermen from the South Shore recently reported that he had already caught all of his allocation of Winter Flounder. His choice to continue fishing is to either lease Winter Flounder at $1/lb or stop fishing. Winter Flounder sells for $1.40/lb at the dock. If someone controls a large amount of a choke species they can control who gets to fish.

Monday, August 1, 2011

From the dock...

Local fisherman Doug Maxfield writes a blog about fishing (among other things - fair warning sometimes the content is spicy) and late last week he penned a post about some of the issues we have been concerned about, specifically consolidation of the fishing fleet into fewer boats. We consistently hear that consolidation is happening and it is driving out the small guys most. Doug's view is something we hear all the time from fishermen up and down the coast.

In recent and likely in coming years the costs to go fishing will continue to rise. Everything from fuel to the cost to lease fishing quota (a necessity for many fishermen under the new catch shares management plan). Meanwhile fish prices have remained largely unchanged in the last decade, ranging from 1.50/lb to 2.50/lb.

The resulting picture is not pretty for the smaller day-boat vessels that have the least impact on the ocean and provide the highest quality seafood. Supporting CAFC is a great way to support the local dayboat fleet, but in the long run, more will need to be done to ensure a healthy diverse fishery.

In the coming weeks, NAMA will be making a push to put protections in place for smaller inshore vessels and we hope that some CAFC folks will help us get the message to fisheries managers that people other than fishermen care about who fishes!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Behind the scenes

CAFC is featured on WGBH!

A special shout out to Steve Tousignant who works diligently behind the scenes to make sure everyone gets their fish. Beyond being the man behind the curtain at CAFC, Steve is a great cook so if you get the chance ask him about cooking seafood. He does a mean smoked bluefish.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mackerel and other fishy fish

One of the great things about a CSF like Cape Ann Fresh Catch is that you get fish you might not normally eat or purchase in a market. For those of us who like whole fish, oftentimes it is hard to even find whole fish at the fishmongers. Still, for most folks there are just some fish that people do not like. Or, let's phrase that differently, there are fish that people don't know they will like yet.

The most common complaint about these types of fish are that they are too "fishy". I love hearing that, it reminds me of when people complain that a wine is too "grapey". The irony of the language however cannot detract from the real feelings that most people have to the strong taste of some oily fish such as herring, mackerel, and bluefish.

I have yet to get a mackerel in any of my shares, though I did get a bluefish or two and once got four or five herring (which I admit I converted into Striped Bass by placing chunks of them on a hook at the end of a line!) If you talk to "old-timers" you'll hear about people eating and loving mackerel "back in the day".

There was a recent article about macks in the Gloucester Daily Times. And an even more fascinating link in the comments from Joey Cimartaro of Good Morning Gloucester about a trap fishery for mackerel with some really nice pictures.

The article though makes great points about how healthy macks are to eat. I also find that the "fishy fish" can be prepared without too much fishiness in particular if they are fresh, you cut away some or all of the dark meat (which is also unfortunately the meat with the most Omega 3 oil), and lastly, you cook them with a vinegar dressing.

I didn't realize it, but when I was a kid we would catch bluefish all the time and cook and eat them ourselves (believe it or not, the parents were more finicky about this than the kids) and we'd coat the fillets in mayonnaise and let then sit for a few hours before cooking to reduce the fishy flavor.

More recently, I had Mackerel at 5 Corner's Kitchen in Marblehead (which unfortunately suffered a fire from the adjoining building last week and will be closed for a month). Chef Barry Edelman grills the mackerel and serves it with a vinegar dressing that is just delightful.

Tangent alert: As a seafood aficionado 5 Corners Kitchen should be on your list of places to eat. Barry is not afraid to serve what is fresh, in season, and sometimes considered "trash fish". He recently had on the menu, bluefish, skate, mackerel and a fish stew made from redfish (courtesy of NAMA - shameless plug). And you will no longer find the albatross of real seafood on the menu - the awful farmed salmon.

In any case, one of the things we discuss at our CAFC meetings is whether folks would like to get mackerel in their shares? One of the problems is finding mackerel that is fished sustainably. Currently other than the trap caught mackerel, most macks are caught in large pair trawlers which have a bad record of huge by-catches of striped bass, haddock and other fish which are just dumped overboard to slowly die on the surface.

Sometimes macs come in as by-catch from the dayboat fleet, and hopefully you'll find a few in your shares at some point and you'll learn to love this very pretty little healthy seafood.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fish are just birds underwater

Short post this week with some recent comments from fishermen. At the Spatial Sales Conference I wrote about last week, the last panel was a group of four fishermen and one sector manager. They were asked about their observations on the water and how they reconcile with some of the emerging scientific consensus that was the focus of the conference.

One fisherman when asked if his experiences on the water match what the scientists are finding out responded by saying he always thought of fish as flocks of birds moving underwater. Most of the other fishermen had similar analogies.

When it came time to talk about new management ideas one fishermen said to the room full of scientists, NGO staffers and NOAA/NMFS/NEFMC staff, "You all are the fishermen now. You are the ones with steady jobs, benefits."

He went on to say what a lot of fishermen have said in recent years, that there are more people employed in regulating, lobbying and managing fish than there are people catching fish. He concluded by saying, "Whether this science is right and the old science is wrong, or the new way is better at managing fish I don't know. I just hope you get it right, so the fishermen can get back to fishing."

All of the fishermen agreed that the numbers of fish "out there" in the Western Gulf of Maine was the largest they had seen in their fishing careers. They all said they no longer have to think to catch fish, they just go to whatever area is not closed drop their nets and pull them back full of fish.