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Despite problems at sea, N.H. Community Seafood program is going strong

Last modified: 10/10/2015 11:27:56 PM
New Hampshire’s commercial fishing industry is a shell of its former self, but there are still enough boats sailing daily, and enough fish in the Gulf of Maine, that the state’s unusual seafood CSA is going strong.

“We have been consistently increasing membership since 2013,” said Andrea Tomlinson, general manager of New Hampshire Community Seafood. Almost 600 people signed up for the second of the four six-week sessions – at a cost between $40 and $160, depending on the amount of fish they bought – and Tomlinson said average participation is up about 10 percent since last year, when the program expanded out of its base along the Seacoast.

New Hampshire Community Seafood begins its final session of the year next week, with pickups at Cole Gardens, 430 Loudon Road in Concord, and Brookford Farm in Canterbury among the 17 locations where people can get their weekly allotment of fresh fish. As with a CSA, where you can’t predict what will be in the weekly delivery, people pay in advance and take their chances on whether the catch will be well-known species like cod or plaice or obscure species like monkfish and dogfish.

There are also nine eateries participating in its Restaurant-Supported Fishery program, in which they make prominent use of just-caught fish. Most are in Portsmouth; the closest to Concord is Local Eatery in Laconia.

“A lot of our regulars when they sit down will ask about it,” said Ethan VanVeghten, front of house manager for Local Eatery. “People are sometimes pretty surprised that we can get fish caught in New Hampshire waters . . . but most of the appeal is the freshness. You can totally taste the freshness.”

All of this is happening even as the number of New Hampshire-based day boats – fishing boats that head out each morning and bring their catch back to shore every evening, rather than storing it onboard for several days at sea to extend their range – has shrunk to nine in the face of fewer fish in the sea and resulting limits on how much fish they can catch.

“It was 18 last year. It was 26 in 2013,” Tomlinson said. “In the ’90s when I was doing research, there were 26 at each port” along the New Hampshire coast.

New Hampshire Community Seafood was created as part of efforts to reverse that trend, following an overhaul of the way the federal government regulates ocean fishing.

While it buys just a small part of the day boats’ catch, it pays a 25-cent-per-pound premium over the price offered at the wholesale fish auction sites.

That is designed to get more money into the hands of local fisheries and encourage them to pursue species that are of less commercial interest to big markets, reducing pressure on the collapsing stocks of cod.

The fishing boats benefit from up-front cash and some guaranteed sales, while customers get fish delivered within 24 hours of landing and a connection with a working New Hampshire fishing operation.

New Hampshire Community Seafood is a co-operative. Customers can become members for $100 or more, participating in decisions and getting a portion of any end-of-season profits.

It’s still possible to sign up for the season, and prices range from $40 for a half-pound per week to $160 for two pounds.

Check the website, nhcommunityseafood.com, for details.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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