Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) are the seafood version of the increasingly popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in which members of a community pay a one time upfront fee for a weekly share in a local farms’ seasonal output of fruits and vegetables. Similarly, in a CSF, community members pay upfront for a weekly or biweekly share in the catch of one or several local fishermen. However, CSFs are often available year round. And just like when you join a CSA, the benefits of joining a CSF are immense.
By paying local fishermen directly it allows them to bypass the global demand-based market system with a more sustainable supply-based market system. In the former, the consumer dictates what the fisherman supplies. In the United States, our taste in seafood has become overly simplified since World War II. We used to consume dozens of different species but today, only a handful are widely consumed, namely shrimp, tuna and salmon. This encourages overfishing to meet the demand. In a supply based system, fishermen supply fish based on what’s in season, abundant and available locally.
1. CSFs encourage more transparency and trust between consumers and fishermen. Seafood fraud is a big problem in our global system of seafood. Studies estimate that for some fish like Atlantic cod, snapper and wild salmon that anywhere from 25% to as much as 70% of it is purposefully mislabeled. A more simple and direct supply chain reduces that risk.
2. CSFs give consumers increased access and diversity to locally-caught seafood. Our supermarkets are slowly responding to the demand for sustainable seafood but that demand is, more often than not, being supplied from overseas. Overseas sustainable seafood is better than non-sustainable seafood for sure but we still pay a heavy carbon footprint for shipping it such long distances. CSFs are the best and most direct way to access truly local seafood. They also give us access to a wider diversity of local seafood.
3. CSFs pay fishermen a fairer price for their work. In the global demand-based market system seafood is a commodity that passes through a complex chain of middlemen including distributors, packagers, processing facilities, importers and transporters. Each link in the chain takes a cut. Community supported fisheries shorten the supply chain and thus fishermen get paid more.
4. CSFs benefits the health of our seas. Small scale community-based fishermen are more apt to care about the health of our seas than giant international seafood conglomerates trying to fulfill global demand of a limited resource. Furthermore, CSFs in the United States follow strict quotas and are among the best managed and most sustainable fisheries in the world.
5. CSFs strengthens the economies of our community-based fisheries. When you buy seafood from overseas in a supermarket, none of that money stays in your local economy.
Community supported fisheries are still in their infancy and there are not nearly as many options as CSAs. Most CSFs are concentrated in the northeast and California but they are slowly catching on (no pun intended) in other places.
Finding a CSF near you is pretty easy. Local Catch is a fantastic national resource for connecting consumers to sustainable seafood via CSFs. They have a CSF finder function right on the homepage of their website. When you find a CSF near you, you can learn more about it (such as what seafood they catch and the times and locations for pickup) and sign up!
Local Catch includes other direct buying options too such as local farmers markets that include local fishermen. Simply go to www.localcatch.org and you can search for CSFs and more in your area.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.