Joining a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) involves pre-purchasing a share in the fish caught from a local small-scale fisher during fishing season.
A Community Supported Fishery (CSF) is a system of direct marketing in which consumers “invest” in a share of a fisherman’s catch at the beginning of a fishing season by paying a pre-determined amount. In return they receive a weekly “share” of fish. Based on the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, a CSF represents a different economic model based on principles of community, cooperation and justice. Towards these ends, CSFs operate for a quadruple bottom line that includes: environmental stewardship, local economies, social improvements and healthy regional food systems.
Fisherman Frank Groppo handing over a share of seafood at Codman Community Farm in Lincoln, MA. Photo courtesy of Chris Garrity.
Modeled after Community Supported Agriculture, a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) is a community of consumers collaborating with local fishers to buy fish directly for a predetermined length of time. CSF members (also called shareholders) give fishers financial support in advance of the season, and in turn receive a weekly share of seafood caught during the season. A CSF reconnects people to the ocean and can help build rewarding relationships between fishers and shareholders. Fishers benefit by receiving income early in the season, bridging the gap between pre-season expenses and fishing-season income, which helps to cover the costs that may not be absorbed by the consumer through traditional market practices. By providing cash upfront, consumers are helping to contribute to the cost of fuel and quota leasing, and are also absorbing some of the risk. The risks involved are similar to risks in agriculture, in that, if you have a season with a poor harvest due to natural disasters, weather or other problems, the CSFs can help offset these costs because these costs have been paid for and shared with the consumer. Through direct sales to community members, fishers reconnect with their broader community, receive better prices for their catch and gain financial security. As members of a CSF, consumers have the benefit of knowing their fish is caught locally and that their investment is strengthening the local community.
In today’s current food production system, purchasing seafood from a grocery store or a restaurant means that it has changed hands several times, from the fisher to the processor to the distributor and so on. This means that consumers pay more at retail for frozen fish that comes from far away, while the fishers who caught that fish are being paid much less than the retail value. By buying fish from a CSF, consumers pay less than what they would pay at a grocery store or a restaurant, while fishers receive more money for their products.
Shareholders waiting in line at the Harvard University Farmers’ Market for fresh, local fish from the Gulf of Maine.
The quadruple bottom line model that CSFs achieve (environmental stewardship, boosting local economies, creating social improvements, and supporting healthy regional food systems) can make powerful change in the food system. CSFs operate with an ethic of environmental stewardship, which also means using creative community-based approaches to marine conservation that are specific to the ecosystems that support them. CSFs boost local economies by increasing the viability of traditional coastal communities, and they foster economic opportunities for small businesses and support natural resource-based livelihoods. CSFs also cultivate ties and create social improvements by establishing bonds between shore-side communities and inshore urban, suburban and rural communities by providing fresh, local seafood. This serves to connect inshore areas to the sea in a meaningful way, by expanding the circle of people and areas that matter in the community. Finally, CSFs contribute to healthy regional food systems by keeping more dollars within regional communities and supporting food sovereignty.
Benefits of CSFs
- Less stress on fish and fishers. When a fisher receives higher prices for their catch by participating in a CSF they may survive financially even if their catch comes up short. While fisheries in the United States are heavily regulated to prevent overfishing, the cost of fishing is constantly increasing, so there is pressure on small-scale fishers to catch more fish. If fishers can make a fair market price for the fish they catch, they can then catch less to make the same amount of profits, thereby allowing fish stocks to rebuild. CSFs also provide opportunities for collaboration and support among fishers within a given fishery.
- Economic benefits to the fishers and their communities. Small businesses create jobs. The local markets created by participating in a CSF can help to ensure future generations of fishers. CSFs also help safeguard working waterfronts, because if CSFs help make more fishers financially secure, then waterfront infrastructure is more likely to be maintained.
- Educates consumers about healthy eating. While many consumers are interested in eating healthy and local, they often are unfamiliar with their local seafood, the migration patterns of fish, fishery regulations, fishing as a way of life, and how to cook seafood. A CSF provides consumers with information and access to local, seasonal fish and an opportunity to hear directly from the fishers.
- Create public awareness and support for good fishing policies. When people know who catches their food, they are more sensitive to policies that affect them. The more the public associates the seafood on their tables with the individuals who caught and delivered it, the more willing they are to consider how their buying habits and votes affect the well-being of the fishers and the oceans.
CSFs are located across the country. You can find a CSF near you by visiting LocalCatch.org.
The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) is partnering with fishermen to provide assistance on starting a CSF. Check out their toolbox for more information.