This summer we’re participating in a program that’s introducing us to varieties of fish caught off the New Hampshire coast. Once a week we trot down to the natural foods store in town to pick up our delivery – our location gives us a three-hour window – and we return with a pound of very fresh seafood. Every week it’s a different variety (11 are likely over the season), and we get an email earlier in the week notifying us what will be on the way, allowing the cook in the household to begin considering menu options. Or we can go to their website for links to suggested recipes.
It’s not cheap – you pay when you sign up, in our case for the 15-week program – about twice what we’d normally shell out for what’s featured at Market Basket, but there are other factors to weigh in. For one thing, living in the Seacoast Region of the state, we’re very aware of the plight of the once vital fishing industry across New England and the struggles to sustain both a way of life for families and communities and the fishing grounds themselves. While we’re not militant local-harvest activists (it just isn’t economically viable for our part of the world, not with its long winter), we are inclined toward small-scale economics wherever possible (just consider the banks, for starters). So we feel good about our token support for our neighbors. In a way, it’s like a farmers market, except that we’re committed to taking the week’s delivery, the way you are in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) setup.
That leads us to another consideration, the fact that the program itself arises in an attempt by the commercial fishermen sailing from Seabrook, Hampton, Rye Harbor, and Portsmouth Harbor to counter the negative impacts of a practice begun in 1976 that directly sold the local harvest in international auction. Rather than having their fishing practices driven by global market pressures, they wanted a more sustainable alternative, a strategy to better manage marine resources and fish more selectively. In response, four years ago the harvest coop they organized was given an ownership right to collectively manage the federal groundfish fishery. In other words, there’s a strong environmental component here, including a more efficient use of high-cost fuel along the way. As they say, their fish catch hasn’t been sitting on the boat for a week – it comes to port the same day it was caught. Good for them!
Of course, all of that still needs to come together at the dinner table. This isn’t charity, after all, but a win-win deal we’re looking for. We can start with a sense of adventure as we explore previously unknown types of fish. (Acadian redfish, anyone? Or dabs? Or dayboat dogfish shark?) Let me rave about the monkfish on that front – as I ate, I kept thinking this could be lobster tail. So what else is swimming in the same water with me each summer? My curiosity is heightened. What they’re delivering isn’t everything in the local catch, but it is a way of supplementing their income and providing more balance in their cash flow.
We’ll admit this is our splurge, the way our weekly wine tastings were, back when I was duly employed, or the half-pig we ordered from a farm in Maine, two other examples that allowed us to learn more of the range in taste and satisfaction in our world. Admittedly, we couldn’t do the fishery program when the kids were still living in the house – they can be picky that way, with one easily upset by the mere whiff of fish cooking. Oh, my.
Initially, too, I thought a pound would be on the skimpy side when it comes to our dinner, but we’re finding the enhanced freshness in flavor satisfies in smaller portions – we can serve three and still have a bit left over. Actually, it’s about what we’d get in a restaurant while spending much more.
Reading the profiles of the participating fishermen on the website has me wondering how long I’ll go before making a list of their boats, just so I can identify them when they pass by in the water or tie up at dock. They seem like nice guys, too. Maybe we’ll wave. It does change my perspective, doesn’t it.
Now I’m wondering about similar alternatives being developed around the world. Pipe up, if you wish, along with your own growing awareness.
New Hampshire Community Seafood is a cooperative of fishermen and consumers that has 18 pickup locations with deliveries spaced from Tuesday through Saturday.