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Fresh, Local and Good for the Community

NOAA Sea Grant helps fishermen with local seafood branding and marketing

If you go to the grocery store to buy seafood, chances are that what you end up buying is imported – an 80 percent chance that it is imported, according to NOAA Fisheries Service.

Over the past decade, lower-cost, imported seafood has displaced domestic seafood in many commercial markets. The prevalence of imported seafood now threatens the rich tradition and high quality of regionally harvested seafood. However, by investing in “buy local” initiatives, consumers can invest in their local community and businesses.

Scott Baker, a fisheries extension agent from North Carolina Sea Grant, knew that supermarkets and restaurants up and down North Carolina sold seafood imported from foreign waters — anonymous fillets and headless shrimp that reveal little about their origins.  But where was it caught?  How long did it sit before being frozen? 

“I like to buy my seafood from the individual,” Baker says.  “It’s not so much that I don’t like it from the store — but if it’s all the same, I’d like to know where it came from, and the story behind it.”

Baker, along with Susan Andreatta, a cultural anthropologist from University of North Carolina at Greensboro, helped kick start the idea of Community Supported Fisheries (CSF).  North Carolina Sea Grant is involved in several efforts to help local fishermen and seafood dealers distinguish their fresh products from the competition. A local branding and education program — Carteret Catch — initiated with leadership from Barry Nash, North Carolina Sea Grant seafood marketing specialist, spawned programs in other fishing communities: Brunswick Catch, Outer Banks Catch and Ocracoke Fresh.

Taking the direct approach of offering their catch straight to consumers worked for shrimpers in Delcambre, Lousiana. That tactic is now being replicated across the state. In 2009, the Twin Parish Port Commission of Delcambre teamed with Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) to create Delcambre Direct, a community-supported, web-based seafood direct marketing program. With hands-on technical coordination provided by LSG, member fishermen are profiled on the Delcambre Direct website where they can post vessel-specific messages regarding incoming catches, arrival times and prices.

“We’re leveraging the success of Delcambre Direct into Louisiana Direct,” said Thomas Hymel from LSG. “Over a three-year period, the network will be expanded across the coast – beginning with three new direct marketing programs in Cameron, Lafourche/Terrebonne and the Southshore areas.”

The New Hampshire Commercial Fisherman’s Association and the Yankee Fishermen’s Cooperative partnered with New Hampshire Sea Grant and local seafood groups, restaurants and fish markets to develop a local brand for N.H. seafood. New Hampshire Sea Grant also helped fishers be included in local winter and summer farmer’s markets by building partnerships between the agriculture and fishing industries. Vendors sign an agreement acknowledging that products marketed under the N.H. Fresh and Local brand have been delivered efficiently and directly to consumers, that the species marketed are managed sustainably, and that there is confidence in their point of origin.

Today, Sea Grant programs across the nation are working with fishermen and industry in order to establish CSFs and brand identities for locally-caught fish.  These programs help fishermen sell their catch directly to consumers.  Riding on the wave of the local food movement, CSFs are bringing more income to struggling fishing communities while educating their urban customers on the quality and diversity of affordable, local seafood.

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