While most of us are hunkered down at home right now, fishermen are still out there fishing. The weather has been good this spring, which is a welcome bright spot for Maine’s fleet. Although, it has been a bit of a blessing and a curse given that the demand for fresh fish has been severely reduced. Restaurants that would normally be big purchasers of fresh seafood aren’t buying and customers aren’t having gatherings where they might buy large quantities of fish to serve.

There’s an opportunity here, though. People at home still need to eat. That’s where Gulf of Maine Sashimi, a Portland-based seafood company dedicated to Gulf of Maine ecosystems and communities solutions, stepped in and came up with a creative solution – selling fish directly to consumers. This strategy has been used outside of the current situation, but now it has become a particularly useful way of keeping the fleet fishing and giving them a way to sell their catch.

Gulf of Maine Sashimi is an outgrowth of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s business accelerator program, inspired by GMRI’s Sustainable Seafood program that has focused on the connection between the resource and the consumer. The company started in June 2019 to realize the greatest potential for our region’s seafood.

When Gulf of Maine Sashimi’s customers were forced to close their doors, the company decided to offer its fish direct to consumer to keep the boats fishing and paid. All of the fresh fish they offer are sustainable but may not be the first species that come to mind for most fish eaters. Monkfish and redfish, for example, are two of the fish that have been part of the program. When the current economic and health situation arose, President and CEO, Jen Levin, saw this program as a way to help fishermen out.

The first step was to send the word out to Gulf of Maine Sashimi’s mailing list to let people know what fish were available to purchase. On the website, www.gulfofmainesashimi.com/purchase-fish, you can sign up for email alerts to find out about upcoming order and pick-up dates and offerings. The “menu” of options depends a bit on the timing, but has included Pollock, redfish, cod, monkfish, flounder, and hake. The first trail run had a small list of offerings that were available for pickup on March 16th at the GMRI parking lot in Portland. ”Since we put this opportunity out there to the public, the response has been wonderfully overwhelming.” Because of the program’s popularity, Gulf of Maine Sashimi has added pick up locations in Buxton, Topsham, and is looking for another location in Biddeford. When people are wary of going to the store, they can pick up fresh fish to have at home in any of these locations by pre-ordering and pre-paying.

Not only does this effort offer consumers a fresh dinner that they can get without going to the store, but it also offers them a chance to try something new. For example, how many places can you find monkfish tail or whole flounder? Our household had a little fun on St. Patrick’s Day and had monkfish with stewed cabbage and potato sauce to make use of the giant bag of fish we picked up just

before the holiday. There are recipe ideas and a blog on the project website to help people sort out what to do with their fish. Chef Kelsey O’Connor, head of Product Development for the company, has helped create simple ideas for home chefs that he posts here. He welcomes ideas and photos from people trying out their own recipes as well.

The effort to get more people eating sustainably caught species from the Gulf of Maine isn’t limited to this current effort. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute has a long history of efforts to promote local seafood, including Out of the Blue that engaged chefs in serving local, under-loved species. In addition, back in 2011, GMRI developed a branding system back to let consumers know which species were sustainable choices at their local fish counters, and they work with Hannaford to help find and verify more local source of seafood. GMRI’s Responsibly Harvested standards are listed on GMRI’s website (www.gmri.org/our-work/sustainable-seafood/responsibly-harvested-brand).

Gulf of Maine Sashimi’s effort is similar to others happening around the country and world right now to look out for the producers of our food. Farmers, fishermen and their communities are coming up with creative solutions. Looking for ways to buy from or help organize these efforts are great ways to do something positive in these challenging times. Perhaps this shift in focus will serve as an opportunity for people to connect with and appreciate our local resources in a new way.

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