PORTLAND — There is swordfish, and then there is Linda Greenlaw swordfish.

The Hannaford Supermarkets chain and restaurants in Maine and beyond are now selling swordfish branded with the name of the famed sword boat skipper and best-selling author from Isle au Haut.

The purpose of the marketing effort is partly to sell swordfish and partly to tell the public that swordfish is a local and sustainable product, taken from healthy stocks.

Greenlaw is captain of the Hannah Boden, a boat that operates out of Portland. Jon Williams of Westport Island is the boat’s majority owner and Angelo Ciocca of Portland’s Nova Seafood is part-owner. 

Greenlaw became well known after being mentioned prominently in Sebastian Junger’s 1997 book “The Perfect Storm,” and later wrote her own books, including “The Hungry Ocean.”

“We are opening the eyes of the public,” Greenlaw said Wednesday via satellite phone from the Hannah Boden, while fishing on the Grand Banks, an area 1,000 miles east of Portland that’s rich in marine life. “Look at the latest studies. Listen to the science. The stock is really healthy.”

All of Hannaford’s 176 supermarkets in New England are now selling Linda Greenlaw-branded swordfish. In the seafood department of Hannaford’s store on Forest Avenue in Portland, customers see signs reading, “A fresh catch from Linda Greenlaw, captain of the Hannah Boden.”

“This sounds like a great idea,” said Sam Gorgone, 20, a University of Southern Maine student who was shopping at Hannaford. “If she is promoting sustainable food, I am cool with that.”

Hannaford began selling Greenlaw’s swordfish in September, shortly after the Hannah Boden off-loaded its first catch of the North Atlantic sword season.

The chain sold its first purchase, 34,000 pounds, in just a week, a rate that Hannaford spokesman Matt Paul called unusually brisk. “You’ve got to believe that Linda Greenlaw’s name has something to do with it,” he said.

“Customers know who she is. It makes a difference,” said Nabil Sibouih, Hannaford’s assistant seafood manager at the Forest Avenue store. “They call and ask, ‘When will you have Linda’s sword?’

Although retail seafood prices typically vary, Hannaford locked the price for Greenlaw’s fish at $9.99 a pound throughout the roughly three-month season, which will end in early November. The chain typically sells swordfish at prices as high as $12.99 a pound, said Sibouih.

Paul said the partnership with Greenlaw reflects Hannaford’s effort to sell sustainable and local seafood, a program the company developed with help from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

Greenlaw called the venture “a chance to keep our money and our catch local.”

Drew Masterman, 49, of Portland said he is more likely to buy swordfish from Hannaford if he knows the source. “It’s a real consideration, because it is spending and buying locally,” he said.

Paul said the arrangement is good for Hannaford, which is guaranteed a high-end product, and for the Hannah Boden’s owners, who are guaranteed a buyer.

Rod Mitchell, owner of Browne Trading Company, showed off four 5-foot-long, silver-skinned swordfish — headed, gutted and packed in ice — in the cooler of his shop on Commercial Street in Portland.

Mitchell, who sells fish in his retail shop and to high-end restaurants nationwide, bought the swords last week in Newfoundland, where the Hannah Boden was off-loading. (Sword boats often unload in far northern Canadian ports, which are closest to the remote fishing grounds.)

Among the Portland restaurants that bought Greenlaw’s fish from Mitchell are Hugo’s, the Back Bay Grill and The Salt Exchange.

Jacob Jasinski, head chef at The Salt Exchange, said the restaurant on Commercial Street promotes Greenlaw on its website and its menu board. He said customers seek sustainable and local products and are excited to learn that the fish is from Greenlaw’s boat.

Mitchell also shipped Greenlaw’s swordfish to restaurants such as Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills, Victoria & Albert’s near Orlando, and Alex at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel.

Mitchell said North Atlantic swordfish stocks were in trouble about 10 years ago, when many more boats were targeting the species. Back then, the fish being caught were generally small, in the 50- to 70-pound range.

Concerns about overfishing led the public to stop buying swordfish, Mitchell said. That led wholesalers to stop buying it, and the swordfish market collapsed.

In recent years, North Atlantic swordfish populations have rebounded, because of fishing regulations and fewer boats targeting the species, Mitchell said.

“The fishery rebuilt itself,” he said.

Fish caught these days typically weigh 170 to 250 pounds.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the government agency that manages U.S. fisheries, North Atlantic swordfish populations are fully rebuilt and aren’t being overfished.

Still, Greenlaw said, the public is “grossly misinformed.”

Ciocca, the Hannah Boden’s part-owner, agreed.

“There are all kinds of public perceptions in America that are wrong, and seafood is one of the major ones,” he said. “The public still perceives that swordfish are overfished.”

The Hannah Boden is one of the first sword boats to operate out of Portland in many years; the few boats that fished through the lean years docked in Massachusetts ports such as Gloucester and Fairhaven.

Greenlaw is glad that swordfishing has returned to Portland’s docks, and is happy to have returned to the water.

“I am loving being back swordfishing,” she said. “It is what I love to do.”

Greenlaw said the deals with Hannaford and Mitchell have benefited the Hannah Boden’s crew. Prices paid for fish have been too low for years, she said, but the new partnerships are “making a difference.”

Addendum

This story was revised at 12:32 p.m.. Friday, Oct. 15, 2010, to reflect that the majority owner of the sword boat Hannah Boden is Jon Williams of Westport Island. Williams and Hannah Boden’s other part-owner, Angelo Ciocca, have owned the boat for 11 years.

 

 

 

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at:

jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com