“There’s an opportunity here – it’s an opportunity for people to innovate, and to connect more consumers with Maine seafood.” That’s Monique Coombs, Director of Marine Programs for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA), a non-profit dedicated to supporting fishermen and working waterfronts. MCFA has been working on promoting sustainable seafood for many years. But, the current health and economic situation has increased the reasons and the urgency to get fresh Maine seafood from the fishermen to more consumers.

Right now, many fishermen can’t make a living. The usual restaurant markets are gone and overseas demand and ability to ship is curtailed. That leaves selling to customers directly, which is not without its challenges. For lobstermen, for example, there are limitations on who can sell the fish so that a fishermen’s wife or crew are not able to sell their catch. That means that they have to be off the water to sell their catch. Another issue is price. Lobsters are going for as low as $5 a pound, which is half the price they usually cost this year. “Another big challenge is scale. “The direct thing is great, but all 4,000 or so fishermen in Maine can’t do this – this can’t be the whole model,” says Brunswick lobstermen Tom Santaguida, who sells his catch at Allen’s Seafood in Harpswell.

The part of this story that is positive is that consumers are lining up to buy fresh seafood. During these times when people are happy not to go to the grocery store, it is a way to get good fresh food and have a little interaction with other people, if only at a distance. When Allen’s Seafood decided to sell lobsters directly to consumers, there were people lined up all the way out to the road. They sold over 1,000 pounds in four hours. They’re in week three and are now selling crabs as well from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Friday and Saturday mornings. Information is on Allen’s Seafood’s Facebook page.

In addition to the effort at Allen’s, MCFA has established a Facebook group called Maine Seafood Connection that points consumers in the direction of ways they can buy fresh seafood and support Maine fishermen. “Access to good food can be a comfort right now,” says Coombs. “That’s something people can appreciate.” It’s also an opportunity to educate people. “Who knows, people might even learn to filet while they have more time on their hands,” she says. Santaguida adds, “One good thing that may come out of this is that people can get a better understanding of what it takes to catch fresh seafood. They can see what it takes to bring it ashore to them – the boats, the people, the wharves, the fuel. People don’t know what it takes to catch lobsters in March – it’s really hard. The lobsters are hard to catch and the conditions are hard. That’s why it costs what it does.”

MCFA’s work and that going on at Allen’s are just a couple of the many efforts that are proliferating along the coast to help fishermen find markets for their catch and keep on fishing. Last week, I wrote about an effort by the Gulf of Maine Sashimi Project, a subsidiary of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, to take orders for fresh fish for pickup. That effort is continuing and you can find out about upcoming options on the project website: gulfofmainesashimiproject.com. Another local group, Maine Fish Direct, also has a Facebook page and has been connecting consumers with both lobster and shellfish as well.

I will be eating fish a few nights a week this week and I know it isn’t costing enough to fully support the fishermen, but it also isn’t costing much more than what I’d spend if bought those meals at the grocery store. If enough people did this, it could help out a lot and give you something new to explore culinarily during a time when shaking things up seems to be the way to go. And who knows, you might find yourself dissecting a fish eyeball with your kids at home for fun.

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