Even as N.H. fishing fleet shrinks, seafood ‘farm share’ program continues

  • New Hampshire Community Seafood logo

  • Fishing boats are seen at the Commercial Fishing Pier in Portsmouth. Despite a shrinking commercial fishing fleet in the state, a fish-share program will continue this year. JIM COLE / AP file

Monitor Staff
Published: 3/30/2016 10:33:09 PM

Even as the state’s fishing fleet, complete with just eight commercial boats, struggles to find fewer fish in the sea and new costs related to a federal monitoring program, an unusual community seafood project is gearing up for a third season selling directly to consumers.

“The more people who sign up the more we’re supporting an industry in trouble. Local people supporting local fishermen. It’s more (money) for them and a real confidence booster for our fishermen, because they’re facing such a crisis,” said Andrea Tomlinson, general manager of New Hampshire Community Seafood.

The program, which operates similar to a farm-share for ocean-caught fish, included more than 30 New Hampshire fishing boats when it started in 2013. This year, there are eight, Tomlinson said, some of which are “day boats” that return to one of New Hampshire’s four ports each night and some “trip boats” that spend three or four days at sea catching fish before returning to unload.

“I’ve been calling around, and have been assured there would be fish this year,” Tomlinson said Wednesday. “What we buy is a small percentage of what they’re catching.”

The program pays a bonus of 25 cents per pound to fishermen who sell to it, rather than selling its fish at regional auctions. Because it buys fish not regularly featured at restaurants, such as monkfish, it provides incentive for fishing boats to branch out from commercial species facing population pressure, such as cod.

Last year, it bought about 40,000 pounds of fish, Tomlinson said, including fish that were sold directly to restaurants.

Depending on the species, fillets sold to customers through the NHCS program take up between one-quarter and one-half of a whole fish.

Customers pay in advance for a set amount of fillets of whichever species is purchased from New Hampshire boats that week, and pick it up at one of 17 locations across the state. Three locations in greater Concord are included this year: Cole Gardens in Concord, Brookford Farm in Canturbury and Contoocook Farmers Market.

New Hampshire Community Seafood began in 2014 following a realignment of how the federal government controls the industry for groundfish, a term for fish species which live on or near the bottom of the ocean, such as cod and flounder. Most commercially harvested fish are groundfish.

The reorganization in 2010 put all of the state’s commercial boats into a single sector that shared catch limits and allowed for the creation of the cooperative.

The move was part of efforts to save the once-lucrative cod fishery in the Gulf of Maine, where many fish populations have plummeted for many reasons including environmental factors and fishing pressure. This has led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to put tighter limits on how much cod can be caught, a controversial measure that has helped drive many commercial fishing boats out of business.

This year, fishermen of certain commercial species must also pay for onboard monitors, who collect data to help determine future quotas. The cost of the monitor service can run as high as $700 per day and has led to outrage from the industry, and at least one lawsuit.

“You don’t pay separately for a state trooper to monitor your speed on the way to work,” Tomlinson said. “If they feel they need a secondary monitor, in our opinion it is their responsibility to fund that.”

NHCS runs two 15-week seasons, the first starting May 1. Customers pay in advance and receive two pounds at a cost slightly over $13 per pound.

People can also buy shares in the operation, which give them a portion of any profits, or can become members of the cooperative and help make decisions about its operation.

For more information, visit nhcommunityseafood.com.

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

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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