Monday, February 29, 2016

For Fishing Families, Adapting is the Name of the Game

by Kerry Marhefka 
This is one in a series of stories from some of the people attending Slow Fish 2016.

My name is Kerry Marhefka. Along with my husband Mark we own Abundant Seafood in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina just a few miles north of Charleston.

Mark is a second generation commercial fisherman who has fished in the South Atlantic snapper & grouper fishery since 1979. For many years we operated our business in the traditional manner of fishing for days at a time, loading up as much catch as possible, coming in and selling the whole load to one fish house, just to turn back around and do it all again.

In the early 2000s my husband and I were both very involved with fisheries management. He was an Advisory Panel member for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and I was one of their fishery biologists. Because we were paying attention we knew what was coming and that there was going to be less fish to catch due to management. 

We also knew we couldn't afford to make less money (to make things even more fun we decided that my working at the Council wasn't working for our growing family nor the peace in our household so I left that nice secure, benefit-having government job). 

Our solution was to leave the fish house, cut out the middle man and sell our catch directly to local chefs in Charleston. I am happy to say that not only was that successful but we also were able to start a community supported fishery in 2010, getting fresh local fish into the hands of more than 300 Charleston area families twice a month.

As successful as we have been we still feel a lot of uncertainty for the future of our livelihood and those fishermen and women who may come after us. Much like everywhere else along the coast property prices and development along the water front has skyrocketed. Currently the five or so boats that operate out of the same dock we use are all renting slips and working dock space on a month to month basis with no lease. The owner is a real estate developer.

The few commercial fishermen left worry about the day they will lose their dock space which is ironic considering that Charleston's food scene is at such a high point and those talented chefs are using more fresh local seafood than I can ever remember.

Of course we still worry about the health of the stocks we fish and how management may affect our business (locally we are concerned about the push for the Catch Share management approach) but for some reason we feel like if we stay involved in the fishery management process that we can adapt to any changes in regulations. 

When we attend Slow Fish in March we look forward to meeting other like-minded people and hopefully talking to people who have been faced with similar issues and who might offer solutions that have worked. We also hope we can be helpful to others by sharing our experience of direct marketing to chefs and running a community supported fishery. 

REGISTER for Slow Fish 2016.
JOIN our Facebook Event Page.
SUPPORT our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

HOST a Fisher-Chef Alliance dinner.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Telltale Cod

Chef Evan Mallett showing Slow Fish UNH students how to prepare locally abundant dogfish.

By Chef Evan Mallett 
This is one in a series of stories from some of the people attending (or wishing they could attend!) Slow Fish 2016.

 In 2012, I wrote a blog entitled “Grandpa, What’s a Cod?” The motive for writing that blog was a dramatic realization that my children’s children might someday ask me such a question. Perhaps, I projected, they will see an old menu or read an article, or visit the Cape that bears the name of a mystery fish.

Entire books have been written about cod—citing the fish’s dominion over our national heritage, how it inspired colonization and later, an inestimably rich global seafood trade. As our New World and its human population have expanded from the shores where codfishing boats first landed, cod has been there every step of the way. Until now.

Since I wrote the blog, assessments of the cod population in the Gulf of Maine (my backyard) have only brought more bad news. I am a chef, and I have grown up alongside the bounty of North Atlantic fisheries. In recent years, I have watched those fisheries, and the small family-owned boats that ply our local waters, dwindle to the point of near-extinction. It is clear that a revolutionary shift in mindset is the only solution to a problem we have created over decades of fishing a species to the brink.

Some experts point to changing water temperatures, locally and globally, that might explain a shift in breeding grounds for Atlantic cod and other coldwater species. And, whether as a result of this shift or a three-decade moratorium on cod fishing, there is evidence that Newfoundland—where annual cod harvests once numbered over a million metric tons—might be experiencing a cod comeback of sorts.

It’s not that I personally hold cod up as the all-seeing banner of virtue and supremacy that our founding fathers did when they marched a “sacred cod” wooden replica to the Massachusetts State House, where it still hangs today. The truth is, I definitely revere cod’s flavor, texture and utility. However, a simple reality check tells us that we have no choice but to consider other species as alternatives to our New England culture’s longtime staple fish. I am one of those few chefs who sells Pollock, Acadian redfish, even dogfish, on my menu, because I believe with all of my heart that we have no choice but to ignite a new awareness now, before the fish we grew up eating are gone.

When I attended Slow Food’s Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto in 2010, I heard a fisherman from Oceania talk about how his family could afford frozen farmed salmon from Northern Europe, purchased in his local supermarket, but could not afford to eat his own fresh, local catch, upon which his livelihood depended. That fisherman’s story started my trip down the undercurrent of insanity that is our global seafood distribution system.

I have yet to understand how the economics of food have so egregiously ignored the ecology of food for so long, and I don’t know if even radical change will come too late. But I do know that right now, every community on our planet needs to wake up to a seafood crisis. At stake is not only the human diet’s most nutritious animal protein, but also the trophic balance of all aquatic ecosystems.

Slow Fish is uniquely positioned to spread this gospel like no other organization, and I look forward to seeing talk of change lead to actions that will preserve both fisheries and fishermen.

Evan Mallett is chef/owner of Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, N.H. He also sits on the national Chef’s Collaborative Board of Overseers, the Slow Food Seacoast Board of Directors and the NOAA Seafood Marketing Steering Committee.

REGISTER for Slow Fish 2016.
JOIN our Facebook Event Page.
SUPPORT our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

HOST a Fisher-Chef Alliance dinner.