Brian Pearce, 52, a fisherman based in Portland, hauls a bucket of pollock in this undated photo. Pearce said a new program from the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association will help fishermen like him who are struggling financially. Courtesy / Mary Hudson

BRUNSWICK — Organizers of a new program designed to help fishermen who are struggling financially and feed families in need have started a new fundraising campaign.

Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association started the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program in September, according to Mary Hudson, the association’s program manager. The association buys fish at the Portland Fish Exchange auction, she said, then distributes it to organizations such as the Good Shepherd Food Bank and the Bath Area Food Bank. The association also distributes the fish through area school meal programs with the help of the Maine Department of Education.

“It’s been wonderful,” Hudson said. “It’s been so nice to work on something so positive.”

The program began, Hudson said, with conversations between the association and an anonymous donor, who eventually gave more than $200,000 to the association to start the program. The goal was to pay for 80,000 pounds of fish, providing approximately 107,000 meals. To date, she said, the program has purchased and distributed 53,000 pounds of fish, or approximately 72,000 meals. Hudson said the plan now is to raise an additional $50,000 to make sure the program lasts until spring 2021.

“I think it’s really important to continue this through the winter,” she said. “People are really going to be struggling.”

The program’s organizers are already 10% of the way toward the new $50,000 goal and hope to raise the remainder before Dec. 31. Anyone wishing to donate can learn more on the association’s website at mainecoastfishermen.org 

Hudson said the program isn’t just about feeding the needy. The association buys the fish for $2 per pound, which is enough to pay the fishermen who catch the fish a living wage. That matters because a drop in demand over the summer, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, has led to a huge drop in average prices. For example, said Hudson, just last week hake sold at auction for only 90 cents a pound, which won’t even cover a fishermen’s basic expenses.

“Prices have been so awful,” she said.

Brian Pearce, 52, a fisherman based in Portland, said the association’s price is a big help to those like him, who are dealing with economic hardships.

“It’s a huge plus for us to get that guaranteed price for sure,” he said.

Eben Nieuwkerk, 29, a fisherman based in Kennebunk who lands his catch in Portland, agreed, noting he can only expect to make half as much money now as he did at this time last year. That makes the $2 per pound price the association pays through the program a welcome relief for him, he said.

“When I leave the dock, I know I’m not going to get stiffed on the price,” he said.

Nieuwkerk said he was just as excited at the idea of the program bringing fresh fish to area families and schoolchildren who need it.

“I really like the idea of actually feeding kids,” he said.

Kimberly Gates, executive director of the Bath Food Bank, said when she learned of the program “I jumped on it.”

So far, Gates said, the food bank has received 100 pounds of haddock and 150 pounds of hake through the program. Not only has the food bank distributed fillets to area families, but some of the haddock has also been cooked and distributed through the food bank’s local soup kitchen, and the seafood has been a big hit with the food bank’s recipients.

“They’ve been very pleased,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

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