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Laying a Solid Foundation for Community Supported Fisheries

New England fishing vessels.

"Building a national network allows for more consistencies, sets a good example, and allows us to consider other examples of what works for different community supported fisheries and fishermen."

Carolyn Eastman, founder of Eastman's Fresh Catch,
New Hampshire

For more information on community supported fisheries and the National Summit, please visit the links below:

Round table discussions at the Community Supported Fisheries Summit in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (Credit: Rebecca Zeiber, NH Sea Grant)


June 4, 2012

Have you ever wished you could have fresh, locally caught seafood delivered direct to you every week? What if your purchase helped support the local fishing communities in the process? In a growing number of communities, this is a reality.

What is a Community Supported Fishery?

Community supported fisheries, or CSFs, link fishermen to their local markets. It works like this—any member of the public can pre-pay for a “season” of fresh, local, low-impact seafood, and in turn, receive a weekly or bi-weekly share of fish or shellfish. The idea is similar to the more widespread community supported agriculture programs where customers get a share of seasonal produce.

Like the farmers before them, many commercial fishermen are learning to love this idea as well. They see the potential to boost profits by giving them access to new markets for their products and eliminating the need to distribute revenue to a host of out-of-region middle-men. The benefits extend beyond simple convenience and economics. Fishermen and consumers alike who are involved in these programs say CSFs help reconnect coastal communities to their food system, encourage sustainable fishing practices, and strengthen relationships between fishermen and their communities.

During the last five years, CSFs have increased in number and popularity nationwide. Partnerships between fishermen, community-based groups, and partners like NOAA Fisheries and Sea Grant nurtured their growth. Today, fishermen, fishery scientists, managers and fishing communities continue to be interested in the CSF model. NOAA Fisheries has worked hard to strengthen partnerships in New England, particularly through the planning process, to facilitate productive dialogue among key partners.

Facing Challenges Head On 

Bringing fresh, seasonal seafood direct to local consumers is not without its’ challenges. CSF programs disrupt the traditional processing and distribution chain and represent a huge shift in thinking and doing for local fishermen. Most small-scale fishermen lack the wide range of expertise required of any successful CSF including processing, distribution, safe seafood handling, pricing, business planning, web-based business applications, small business social media, and seafood marketing. Participants also need up-to-date, correct information on permits, licenses, insurance, and careful business planning.

Learning new skills can be a challenge, and with such challenges come the need for problem solving. "It sometimes feels like I'm fighting a system, like it's working against me, " said Carolyn Eastmen, founder of Eastmen's Fresh Catch, New Hampshire. "All the phone calls we have to make, all the permits we need—federal permits, fish and game permits, health permits, farmers market permits—it took so much work just to be present."

To address challenges and broaden the success of these programs, NOAA Fisheries and partners hosted the National Summit on Community Supported Fisheries, May 30 through June 1 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A group of approximately 70  commercial fishermen, fishing communities, and other organizations came together to identify needs, share knowledge, and identify opportunities to expand and modify community supported fishery models. 

"Some people think all you have to do is create and implement a business plan. They think that's the end of it. But it's an iterative process, " said Dick McGee from Port Clyde Fresh Catch. "You plan, do, check, and, and report the process. This summit helps spark new ideas that forward ideas." For McGee and others, the summit served as a forum to help strengthen a national network of CSF programs and an avenue to discuss encountered challenges.

Creating an Open Dialogue

Summit participants identified common hurdles and talked with people who have faced similar challenges. Fishermen, fishing communities, and other organizations discussed what is working and what is not in their CSFs. The national network of community supported fisheries will use the open, productive dialogue coming out of this meeting to improve and grow community supported fishery models in the future. 

The National Summit was an important first step in helping further the success of CSFs and in building capacity for fishing communities across the nation, and an upcoming webinar will help continue the discussion process. Interested parties are invited to attend a CSF webinar on Wednesday, June 13th from 1- 2 p.m. which will summarize highlights from the 2012 National CSF Summit and discuss initial recommendations and next steps. Space for this webinar is limited; webinar seats can be reserved here.

The planning committee will also produce summary materials from the workshop and establish a process for sustaining and growing the network of participants from the summit. As the conversation about community supported fisheries continues to evolve, so will the model as a whole. 

"It's important to build and expand a national network of good, solid people who are in it for the long haulthose who want to provide sustainable, local seafood to consumers." 

-Mark Hooper, Walking Fish Cooperative, North Carolina


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