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Marketing locally caught seafood in New Hampshire

N.H. Sea Grant invest in retailer and consumer preferences on seafood and direct market sales

On a recent Friday afternoon, Damon Frampton, his wife and youngest daughter — namesake of his lobster boat, the F/V Vivian Mae — were selling lobsters off the boat in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (N.H.), to customers who were filling their bags with the lively crustaceans. 

“How about lobster ravioli? Want any of that?” asked his wife, indicating the cooler packed with bags of frozen pasta filled with lobster caught by Damon. Local seafood purchasing options like these direct sales are becoming more commonplace in the Granite State; the fishermen’s willingness to adapt to a changing economic climate, coupled with consumer interest in a fresher seafood product, have largely driven the change on the Seacoast.

Still, many questions remain regarding the best way to market seafood and keep fishermen financially afloat. New Hampshire Sea Grant is heavily involved in research and extension efforts intended to address those questions and related challenges.

Charlie French, University of New Hampshire (UNH) Cooperative Extension associate professor of community development, and Kelly Cullen, associate professor of natural resources and the environment, received N.H. Sea Grant funds to conduct research regarding consumer and retailer preferences for seafood. Results from their research indicate that consumers “overwhelmingly” prefer local seafood over imported seafood and are willing to pay more and drive further to attain it.

But despite their strong preference for local seafood, some consumers hesitate to purchase lesser-known species that are plentiful in local waters but uncommon in cuisine — species such as redfish, dogfish, hake and pollock currently make up the vast majority of the catch in gill nets and trawls in N.H. waters.

“Ten years ago, those were the species that got in the way of the rest of the more economically valuable fish like cod and haddock,” French said. “Now those species are mostly what they are catching, so we have to absolutely figure out how to market and promote them.”

That’s where Erik Chapman and Gabby Bradt, both commercial fisheries specialists with N.H. Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension, enter into the picture. Their collaborations with fishermen, seafood retailers, chefs and others are aimed at providing a financial boost to the struggling N.H. groundfishing industry while helping the public to better understand the importance of buying local, plentiful seafood species.

French’s research indicated that many consumers simply do not know where to purchase local fish. To that end, Amanda Parks, a UNH student and 2014 NHSG Doyle Fellow, has created a “local fish finder” app that will help consumers to source local seafood at markets, restaurants or right off the boat. The app is in the final stages of testing and should be available to the public this fall, Chapman said.

Chapman and Bradt are working with N.H. fishermen and other organizations to encourage K-12 schools and other institutions to purchase seafood from New England waters. The Sustainable Seafood Dinner at UNH’s Holloway Dining Commons was a success, and cafeteria directors at N.H. Seacoast schools expressed an interest in serving more seafood to the students in the lunchroom.

New Hampshire Community Seafood, the state’s only community supported fishery, has grown to more than 500 members who receive a weekly share of fresh fish caught in nearby waters. Off-the-boat sales of lobster, scallops and other seafood items are on the rise, oyster farms in N.H.’s Great Bay have tripled in number over the past few years, and fishermen are raising steelhead trout in underwater pens to sell to local markets and restaurants. Products from each of these efforts are marketed under the N.H. Fresh and Local Seafood brand, which Bradt currently oversees. The brand’s website provides a clearinghouse of information related to finding N.H. seafood, seafood events, species, seasonality and business-related resources for fishermen.

Another potential area of expansion, according to French’s research, is in value-added products — seafood products that are turned into another food item and sold at a higher retail value, like lobster ravioli or fish chowder. This summer, Bradt and Chapman worked closely with the Yankee Fishermen’s Cooperative in Seabrook, N.H., to develop and test fish sticks made from pollock caught in N.H. waters. Several tasting events offered the public a chance to try the products and provide feedback.

N.H. Sea Grant is also working with a restaurant in Dover, N.H., to pilot Fishtrax, a traceability software program that will provide a QR code for customers who order seafood; the code will provide information about the fishermen who harvested or raised the seafood, Chapman explained.

“In the last year, these marketing efforts seem to be paying off,” said Bradt. “Consumers seem to be catching the ‘eat local seafood’ fever. We hope that as additional success stories emerge, more fishermen will try their hand at some of these new initiatives and consumers continue to increase their awareness, enthusiasm and demand for N.H. Fresh and Local seafood,” she added.

 

For more information about the N.H. local seafood marketing research, please contact Charlie French at charlie.french@unh.edu or 603-862-0316. For more information about the N.H. local seafood marketing outreach efforts or the N.H. Fresh and Local Seafood brand, please contact Gabby Bradt at gabriela.bradt@unh.edu or 603-862-2033.

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