ROCKLAND, Maine (AP) — Alice and Larry Hatch always bring a cooler filled with ice when they shop for seafood each week.

They
don’t go to a supermarket or even a seafood shop. This summer they’re
getting their fish — whole, with eyes staring up — directly from the
fishermen who caught it.

The seafood comes from the nearby
fishing port of Port Clyde and the sale is at what might be the
nation’s first “community supported fishery” venture.

A similar
agriculture model has been around for decades; farmers sell portions of
their harvest directly to people who take it home and prepare it for
dinner. Now fishermen are getting in on the act, selling their fresh
fish to people who pay in advance for a share of the catch.

As
they picked up their weekly 5-pound allotment at the Rockland Farmers
Market on a recent day, the Hatches watched closely as fisherman Glen
Libby took out a long serrated knife and demonstrated how to fillet a
cod.

“This is all very personal, and it’s all very natural. And it all comes from right here,” said Alice Hatch.

The
aim is to help fishermen earn a premium on their catch as they struggle
with burdensome fishing regulations and declining fish populations. In
return, shareholders are guaranteed fresh local fish and a chance to
support their local fishermen.

The Port Clyde initiative, branded
Port Clyde Fresh Catch, began last year with about 200 people who
agreed to buy cod, haddock, pollock, redfish, monkfish and other
species from a dozen fishermen. About 250 people are participating this
summer, and the numbers are growing.

The idea is spreading.
Shrimp fishermen in Stonington and on Mount Desert Island tried it last
winter, and a mussel harvester in Brunswick and a lobsterman in
Falmouth are now giving it a try. In Massachusetts, 750 shareholders
signed up this spring to buy fish in advance from Gloucester fishermen.

The
programs go like this: Shareholders pay a set amount in advance for
seafood shares that they pick up at designated drop-off points —
churches, schools, farmer’s markets and the like. People in the Port
Clyde program, for example, can get 4 to 6 pounds of whole fish each
week for 14 weeks for $210. For $238, they’ll get 1½ to 2½ pounds of
filleted fish each week.

The total amount being sold through the
community supported fishery programs is a pittance compared to the more
than 8 billion pounds of fish caught by U.S. fishing boats each year.
But it’s one way that fishermen can get creative and take more control
of their businesses, said Libby, a second-generation fisherman who owns
a 54-foot fishing boat.

Last year, just 61 boats in Maine had
permits to fish for cod, haddock and other so-called groundfish; 120
boats had permits in 2001. During the same period, the numbers in
Massachusetts have fallen from more than 600 boats to 315, according to
the National Marine Fisheries Service.

It’s a lot of work: Besides going to sea, fishermen have to package, market and distribute their catch.

“It’s really a battle for survival at this point,” Libby said.

In
Gloucester, Mass., regarded as the nation’s oldest commercial fishing
port, 750 people have signed up for the Cape Ann Fresh Catch project —
making it the largest community supported fishery venture so far.

The
project is good for fishermen, consumers and the fish supply, said Niaz
Dorry, who heads the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and helped
spearhead the program. By selling a mix of fish at the same price every
week, fishermen aren’t forced to chase fish that are fetching the
highest price on the market that week. It also gives the fish more time
to reproduce, she said.

So far, the program has set up eight
places in the Gloucester area, as well as Boston and its suburbs, where
people can pick up their weekly allotments.

“This has gone beyond our wildest dreams,” Dorry said.

The
Linda Kate Lobster Co-op in Falmouth, Maine, may be the smallest
community supported fishery program yet. Lobsterman Brent Nappi has
sold about 40 shares of his lobster catch, with people paying $125 for
either 25 or 30 pounds of lobsters per month with the price depending
on the season.

Shareholders also can go out on his boat and watch him at work.

“I think this is just the beginning of where people can support local communities and get good prices,” Nappi said.

In
Rockland recently, Libby set up a table at the Rockland Farmers Market
and passed out bags of cod as shareholders streamed by during the
morning. Other people at the market sold eggs, tomato plants, relishes
and pickles, artisan cheeses, breads and other items fresh off the farm.

Besides
getting fresh fish and supporting local fishermen, Sally Perkins likes
meeting the men who ply the seas in search of seafood.

“You get to see the faces of the people who produce the food,” she said.

___

On the Net:

www.portclydefreshcatch.com

www.namanet.org

www.lindakatelobster.com


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