Commercial ground fishermen on the east coast are struggling--so much so that there's concern about whether they, and not the fish they catch, are an endangered species. An organization called New Hampshire Community Seafood is launching an effort to get more Granite Staters interested in eating local seafood, with the hope that it'll provide a boost to fishermen. For our series Foodstuffs, NHPR's Peter Biello reports.
On a quiet and foggy morning, commercial lobster fishermen Lou Nardello pulls his boat into a dock in Seabrook. The 60-year-old first began fishing 35 years ago. After a long break, he recently returned to this line of work.
"I guess you can't get the ocean out of your system. It just stays there," Nardello says. "You get older and realize it's time to do what you want to do."
What Nardello wants is to put a "full compliment of traps" out in the ocean and pull in a profitable catch. He says right now lobster prices are good.
"Nobody's really catching much and everyone's just getting going, so prices are pretty high," he says.
But it's tough for Nardello to know exactly how much he'll make throughout the year. Prices will fluctuate as more lobsters hit the docks. To get fishermen like Nardello the best possible price, New Hampshire Community Seafood is hoping to stimulate demand in local seafood by getting more folks to join their Community Supported Fishery, or CSF. This CSF delivers seafood to its members the way a farm share doles out local tomatoes and spinach.
Manager Andrea Tomlinson is trying to sign up 1,000 members who want regular deliveries of fresh seafood.
"You know, the real reason we're in business is to support the remaining ground fishermen here in New Hampshire. That's our mission."
Tomlinson says there are far fewer fishermen off New Hampshire's coast than there were two decades ago. The reason, she says, is cod catch quotas that are meant to prevent over-fishing.
"In 2015, our sector was limited to catching approximately 62,000 pounds of cod, whereas three years prior to that, our sector was able to catch 2,000,000 pounds of cod," Tomlinson says.
Do the math and that's about three percent of the old limit. There's debate over why that is, but the result has meant shrinking profits for fishermen. Tomlinson says that's not inspiring young people to join or stay in the industry.
She says she asks young crew members: "Would you think about maybe getting a boat someday and getting into ground fishing? They're like, 'Hell, no.' I can't repeat the profanities I hear but, you know, 'Hell no!' There seems to be no hope."
Tomlinson wants to give them hope by getting them more customers for the fish, lobsters, and oysters unloaded here in Seabrook, in this cool storage and distribution room at the Yankee Fisherman's Cooperative, where Marvin Perkins is enjoying a moment of relative peace. He's the manager here who will be controlling the chaos when fishermen line up to drop off their catch.
Perkins says it'll be great if Tomlinson does manage to sign up 1,000 members by the end of the season. He says the fishermen get a better price through the CSF. "Plus," he says, "it brings a fresher product to the table of local people."
The seafood brought ashore here in Seabrook won't have far to travel to get to CSF members. The share season is just beginning, with pick-up locations in Nashua, Laconia, Concord, Manchester, Plymouth, Peterborough, and several other towns.