By Braddock Spear of the Sustainable Ocean Project
Fishermen are among the most innovative people in the world. They have to be in order to make a living and survive as an industry. The Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative is changing the way they do business with an eye toward sustainability of their livelihood and the resources on which they depend. SOP sat down with Gary Libby, a member of the Cooperative, to talk about new approaches they are taking.
Based out of Port Clyde, Maine, the co-op of 12 fishing vessels has developed an ocean-to-table program where the fishermen sell fish directly to their customers. The program, Port Clyde Fresh Catch, is modeled after the increasingly successful farm-to-table programs broadly called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Customers including local residents and restaurants subscribe to the Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) by buying shares of the fishermen’s catch. Each week customers are guaranteed a predetermined poundage of fish or shellfish caught fresh from the Gulf of Maine. Fishermen gain from this arrangement by cutting out the middleman and getting more profit for their catch. Consumers benefit by receiving traceable wild-caught seafood at reduced prices.
By SOP’s judgment, not all seafood sold through the Fresh Catch program can be considered sustainable. However, the Cooperative’s fishermen are doing their part to work toward this goal. They have experimented with and now voluntarily use fishing gear that minimizes bycatch of small fish and non-target species. The group also lobbies for policies that are designed to achieve sustainability while allowing their members to continue to earn a living.
By getting higher returns out of less fish, the Cooperative is promoting a model that can help save our oceans. They couldn’t have set up the Fresh Catch program without the help of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Island Institute. Partnerships like these and CSFs are popping up along the coasts of the United States. SOP is on the lookout for other win-win situations like the one in Port Clyde.