Campus Currents

Fishermen, Meet the Customers
A way to support local farms migrates to local fisheries.

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Erik Chapman
Lisa Nugent/UNH Photographic Services
SURF ON TURF: Cooperative Extension's Erik Chapman worked with Kittery Point resident Amy Richards to found a local community-supported fishery.

Can a computer system save New England's fisheries? How about a church meeting?

Fishery experts in UNH's Cooperative Extension and New Hampshire Sea Grant think so. They're bringing new tools and new ways of thinking about catching and eating fish to fishermen and seafood lovers around the Seacoast.

Fishing in New England has been in decline for decades. "At the same time, there's this growing awareness among consumers of where seafood comes from and whether it's sustainably caught," says Erik Chapman, assistant extension professor. By transitioning to a low-volume, high-value market of selling directly to customers, he adds, the New England fishery stands a better chance of long-term survival.

Cooperative Extension and Sea Grant are connecting fishermen with those new markets—sometimes literally, as in the case of the new Kittery Point Community Supported Fishery. Like its cousin the CSA, or community supported agriculture, a CSF delivers weekly shares of fresh-off-the-boat seafood to members who have paid up front. Kittery Point resident and CSF founder Amy Richards first learned about community supported fisheries at a lecture at her church.

"I thought, 'this is awesome.' We do vegetables in CSAs, why not fish?" she says. But the recent Wisconsin transplant didn't know any fishermen, and she was daunted by the regulations and mechanics of launching such a venture—until she met Chapman. He introduced her to Eliot fisherman Dennis Robillard and Kittery lobsterman Steve Lawrence and connected her with other CSFs around the country.

The project's success, she says, has been "viral." Aiming for 20 members, the CSF had more than 50 last summer and nearly that many in a fall CSF. "The community totally embraced it," she says. Robillard, who filets about 68 pounds of fish each week for the CSF, is similarly pleased; the organization puts several hundred extra dollars into his pocket each week. It also moves him closer to his goal of marketing his entire catch directly to customers.

In the end it's not the fishermen or consumers that Chapman and his colleagues care most about: It's the fish. CSFs and other Sea Grant/Cooperative Extension projects like improved fishing gear can help endangered stocks rebound while preserving the industry that brings it to the dinner table.

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