As COVID-19 has spread across the world, our country, and now New England, it has left no part of the economy untouched. Small businesses, especially, are challenged in a variety of ways during this time — including the many marine businesses that comprise our network of partners and stakeholders throughout the seafood supply chain.
Still, we are drawing inspiration from this crisis as we watch our community band together in support of one another. In their own way, everyone is asking “What can I do to help?”
When it comes to supporting working waterfronts, we have some tips to offer. Here are five simple steps to support the people and businesses who work so hard to provide us with fresh, local seafood.
Choosing to eat more seafood is the simplest, most powerful way we can help the many businesses involved in keeping people working on the water. Buying local seafood supports fishermen and their families, and it keeps our coastal communities thriving. In order to run their businesses, fishermen purchase fuel, bait, and other supplies, which supports local businesses big and small.
The effects of the coronavirus amplify the need to buy local seafood, but it has always been an important way to contribute to the strength of our waterfront economy. Over the years we’ve developed a number of resources intended to help you eat more seafood, as have other partners and friends of GMRI. Here are some ways to get started:
- If you’re new to cooking fish at home (or maybe just a little out of practice), we’ve assembled some basic cooking methods to get you started.
- Pick a new recipe and give it a shot. Tag us on Instagram and let us know how it turned out!
- The New England Seafoodies Facebook group is a place where local seafood lovers share recipes and suggest places to buy local seafood.
- Seafood Nutrition Partnership offers a variety of great recipes to try as well.
- There are so many great seafood cookbooks out there. Pick your favorite and use it to cook something local! Here are some staff favorites:
Follow some of our friends for more inspiration!
- @seafood4health offers more recipes and links to food bloggers
- @harborfishmarket often shares recipes and opportunities to buy local fish in Portland
- Our friend Monique Coombs (@aragostamama) of Maine Coast Fishermen's Association shares her fishing family perspective along with some simple ways to cook seafood and incorporate more seafood meals into your family’s diet
- @bartsfishtales offers quick and fun seafood recipes by video.
Have ideas for other good social media follows? Share this piece and shout out your favorite accounts!
Demand for fresh seafood has dropped dramatically, especially with the closure of so many restaurants, but also with people focused on stocking up on dried/frozen/canned foods. This is happening at a tough time of year, just when fishing is about to ramp up for many boats. Fishermen and sea farmers are the backbone of our seafood economy and coastal communities, and they need our help.
Many fishermen and farmers are moving to sell their seafood directly to consumers, due to losing restaurants and other customers. The best way to support them is to seek these direct-to-consumer opportunities out. Here are a few to get you started:
- Fishermen and local seafood markets in Maine have been sharing information on a few public Facebook groups, including The Maine Seafood Connection, Maine Fish Direct, and Maine's Working Waterfront - Seafood Connect. Maine Coast Fishermen's Association also has a list of direct buying opportunities.
- Some sea farmers have been adding their farms to this list from UMaine Cooperative Extension.
- Last year, we launched Gulf of Maine Sashimi, a mission-driven business venture intended to build premium markets for Maine fishermen. Gulf of Maine Sashimi buys directly from local commercial fishermen who use specialized handling practices that accomplish the highest quality fish possible. While it was launched as a wholesale business that markets to restaurants and seafood dealers, Gulf of Maine Sashimi has quickly developed a direct-to-consumer option to ensure they can keep buying fish from their fishermen partners.
- If you’re shopping in New Hampshire, look for activity from the Yankee Fishermen’s Cooperative and New England Fishmongers. Or, check out Seacoast Local which is adding more details as fishermen, farms, markets, and restaurants contact them.
- In Massachusetts, some processors who participate in our Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested program are selling local seafood directly to consumers (rather than to restaurants, as they normally would). Red’s Best is sharing alternative ways to purchase fish from them on their Facebook page. Foley Fish is selling direct to consumers through their online shop. Ipswich Shellfish and Maine Shellfish are selling through periodic pop-ups in Ipswich, MA, and Kennebunk, ME. You can also follow the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance for local seafood buying opportunities.
As you shop, remember that fresh seafood can be frozen to relieve the pressure of using it right away. Also, think about trying something new — many local fish, like redfish, hake, pollock, plaice, are easy substitutes in any white fish recipe. Maybe you usually eat shellfish only when you go out to eat; try cooking clams, mussels, oysters, or lobster at home. There are also new local seafood products coming online, like local kelp from Atlantic Sea Farms, wild seaweed from other Maine companies, and a little bit of everything seaweed through Heritage Seaweed shop in Portland.
If you’ve been following the news, you know that restrictions on dining in restaurants have nearly shuttered this industry overnight. Restaurants are important parts of all our communities, they employ thousands of people in our region, and they run on very thin margins, making a crisis like this extremely difficult to face.
Nationally, 70% of seafood is eaten in restaurants, and the loss of restaurant orders is having a significant impact on the seafood industry.
Many restaurants are offering takeout/delivery. There are other ways to offer support to restaurants that can't offer takeout. One simple way is to purchase gift cards from your favorite places to use in the future. Many restaurants have also set up GoFundMe campaigns to support their staff. We urge you to seek out your favorite restaurants, including our Culinary Partners, on social media and check their websites to see what they are asking for.
Local papers, magazines, and food writers are also sharing information about how to help restaurants and their workers. Many are also offering aggregated lists of restaurants doing delivery/takeout. Here are a few: Portland Food Map, Maine Magazine, Eater Boston.
Like restaurants, these businesses are important members of the community. Some of them are focused on selling local food and are important outlets for fishermen and sea farmers. With restaurants closed, retail is becoming the primary way to distribute food. With fishermen and farmers looking for alternatives, small retailers offer a potential outlet, and many are offering curbside service and/or delivery.
Some of our Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested partners are selling through their retail shops with curbside pick-up and/or home delivery, including Lighthouse Wine and Seafood, PJ Merrill Seafood and Free Range Fish and Lobster. Another popular Portland retailer, Harbor Fish, is also offering delivery. In Massachusetts, the Division of Marine Fisheries is sharing a list of seafood retailers (e.g. small fish markets). and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management also has a list of local retailers.
Of course, you can also choose local seafood when you go to larger supermarkets. For example, Hannaford offers local seafood options throughout the entire seafood department, including fresh, frozen, and canned products.
The solutions to this new challenge all require collective action. The economic challenge facing our working waterfronts is no different. Every shopping decision you make contributes.
We hope you’ll share this opportunity to buy local seafood with your friends and family. Food is best enjoyed with others, so think about ways you can do that while maintaining appropriate physical distance.
Here are some ideas to get started:
- Host a virtual dinner party! Encourage some friends and family to buy local seafood and prepare a dish from a recipe you choose together, then join each other on a video call and enjoy a meal.
- Email this article with a personal note to a friend you know will appreciate it, and let them know you’re thinking about them.
- Share this piece on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), tag us, and let us know what other local seafood options you’re a fan of. We’ve highlighted several of our partners and friends for you to connect with, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Learn a new skill with friends! You could try buying whole fish and learn to fillet or learn how to shuck oysters. Challenge your friends to do the same and compare notes.
Whatever you choose to do, we hope you’ll find a way to connect with friends and family however you can during this challenging time. Stay connected, stay safe, and eat seafood!
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