Fresh and local — you hear it all over these days. But if there is one place where fresh, and hence local, is really important, it’s the seafood that finds its way to your plate. I have always thought that people who don’t like fish have never had real fresh fish. “Fishy and stinky” are not descriptive words for fresh seafood. “Sweet” and “delightful” are words more fitting when you go the extra mile to find good seafood, whether at a local restaurant or market.So, how far exactly do you have to go to get the real thing? Seems the whole fishing industry is a Byzantine maze. Currently, much of the fish and lobsters brought off the New Hampshire coastline are taken to Boston or other points and then redistributed. It seems illogical, and there is a movement afoot to address that problem. Local fishermen, lobstermen and restaurant and business owners have gathered to create a branding for local seafood, “New Hampshire Seafood — Fresh and Local.” The new logo, along with principles and standards, is currently being launched and should be seen in local restaurant windows soon.Lobsterman Erik Anderson says, “Fresh is a big thing with fish, especially once you understand how the system works.” It’s possible a fish could travel 1,600 miles out of water to reach your plate, he claims. Boats come in and the product is sold to shore-side facilities — then sold again and yet again. The dealers control the market, and there is a large disparity in the price of lobster between what the lobsterman gets and what the public pays. When a more direct method is used, it is a win-win situation, says Erik.This summer lobstermen are getting about $3 a pound for lobster and less for ones with new shells. Erik says he prefers the new shells and claims their meat is sweeter. “It is just part of their molting cycle — there is no reason for us to be paid less, but the public is not educated on this aspect.”
“We prefer to sell to local dealers, but we need the middlemen to move the product when there is a glut,” Erik says. The lobstering industry has gotten into trouble with the decline of the global economy. “Most of our lobsters were sent abroad, but now the demand has severely declined. New England lobster is seen as a luxury item beyond our shores. We want to start marketing locally again. It only makes sense,” he says. Helping maintain a fair equity for the fishermen will go a long way in providing a sustainable fishing industry off of our shores.
The “buy local” campaign is also geared to help protect the industry. Much of the working harbor is being sold off to make way for condos. Erik says, “People move to the port area, then complain it smells like fish. Once the working water is gone, it’s gone.”
What can you find locally? It depends on the season. Gulf of Maine shrimp are really sweet-tasting when fresh, but their season goes from December to early spring. They are often called Maine shrimp, but as Erik says, “they have no residency issues and are pulled in locally. Same with lobster, many are caught here and shipped to Maine.
The regulators clamped down on shrimp fisheries, and the processing sector disappeared. Now with the processors gone the shrimp are available, but there is no one to take care of them on shore.” When local fish find a local market, then the processing plants can be re-established.Fisherman Jeff Lane. Photo by Susan Laughlin.Rich Pettigrew of Seaport Fish in Rye is down at the Portsmouth dock near Little Harbor every day. He buys the landings of the Lady Mae and seven other boats. The Lady Mae has a gillnet — two large metal “gills” help spread the width of the net as it is lowered into the sea where it stays for a day or two. When they come back the net is filled with a mix of cod, pollock and sand shark. The fishermen gut the fish on the way back and keep them on ice until they’re unloaded. The day I visited, fishermen on the Lady Mae pulled in their quota of cod (800 lbs.) and 3,000 lbs. of the sand sharks.
The latter are quickly bought and sold by Pettigrew for markets overseas. “Nobody seems to like the taste of them around here.” Pettigrew purchased the cod, some of which went to his retail stores in Rye and Dover, and the remainder went to markets in Gloucester, Boston, New Bedford and Portland, Maine, that will be ready to retail the next day.
Pettigrew says, “The fishermen don’t know the price they are paid until later in the afternoon. All the weights for the hauls are sent to an online central market auction house that determines the price per pound. The more fish caught on the Eastern Seaboard or shipped by the Canadians that day, the lower the price.” To give you an idea of the disparity, fishermen are averaging about 80 cents a pound. The filleted fish in Pettigrew’s Seaport Fish market goes for $5 a pound. Of course, 60 percent of the whole fish is lost in the filleting process. The waste is often sold back to lobstermen for bait.
I watched the filleting process in the back room at Seaport Fish, which, by the way, did not smell fishy. With a sharp knife and a sure and deft movement, the knife entered at a perpendicular just below the gill and turned a right angle just above the spine in a steady movement to the tail. The fish was flipped over and the process repeated. Much of the filleted fish is ordered by local restaurants, including Agavé and Wentworth by the Sea.I purchased a small cod from a fisherman the day of my visit and tried the filleting process myself. The fillets came out a bit thin, but I won’t be afraid of buying a whole fish anymore. See photos of the process online at www.nhmagazine.com.
Seaport Fish is a nice retail fish store and specialty food outlet. They have a presence at the Portsmouth Farmers Market on Sundays, where they sell clam chowder and fish tacos. Via e-mail, they notify customers of the catch of the day and news of scheduled events, including wine tastings. Locally-caught fish are proudly listed on a blackboard and a special area of the case is dedicated to the catch of the Lady Mae. This is as close as you will get to meeting the fishermen without going down to the docks yourself.
The local fish recently available at Seaport Fish included hake, haddock, codfish, flounder, grey sole, cusk, pollock, monkfish, ocean perch and ocean catfish. Erik Anderson says there are 19 varieties harvested off our shoreline. He says people need to learn more about the different varieties. “To me, white fish like cod and haddock are bland. I feel pollock is underrated. When you see dark meat, think taste value.”
There are still many questions to ask about the fishing industry. Is our local fishing done in a sustainable manner? During my visit to the dock, two handsomely dressed fellows in uniform showed up. They were from New Hampshire Fish and Game, there to spot check the hauls on individual boats. National Marine Fisheries sets up the rules to promote sustainability; Fish and Game enforces their quotas. Pettigrew says, “Basically the fishermen are fishing to sustainability.”
What goes on above the water is equally important for the industry. A sea change is going on now in the permitting process. Licenses are being sold for “sector” fishing — and it is a game changing ruling for small-boat fishermen.The UNH Sea Grant program is involved with tagging fish up and down the Eastern Seaboard to get an idea of the movement of fish populations. When tagged fish are caught by fishermen, they report the location to the agency. They are also promote special fishing gear, such as netting that lets smaller fish swim free.
What about the safety of eating fish in general? There has been some bad press about eating fish and this has been addressed by the industry. Tuna is the only one on the list that is fished in the Gulf of Maine that is not suggested for pregnant and nursing women because of high mercury levels. Turns out that the other problem, increasing levels of PCBs, is actually higher in beef!
All your questions will be answered at the 1st Annual Fish and Lobster Festival to be held on Sept. 19 at Prescott Park from noon to 4 p.m. Area chefs will be on hand preparing just-landed fish and offering recipes, while the UNH Sea Grant program will have information about the Gulf of Maine ecosystem. Organizer Ben Anderson says the highlight of the day will be a “throwdown” between two chefs who will be given the same fish just minutes before they are asked to prepare it. Part of the challenge will be a 30-minute shopping spree at the Portsmouth Farmers Market to complete the dish. “This festival will have a strong educational component,” says Ben. Yes, there is a lot learn about our local fish. See you there! NH
More InformationVisit www.seacoasteatlocal.org Seacoast Eat Local's site for a listing of fish markets and restaurants that are buying from local boats. Here are a few places to get you started:
Seacoast Eat Local recommends that you ask for New Hampshire seafood by name on a dish-by-dish or fish-by-fish basis, as these businesses may sell a wide variety of seafood in addition to the NH Seafood brand.
Jumpin' Jay’s Fish Café – 150 Congress St. Portsmouth, NH 03801 (603) 766-3474, www.jumpinjays.com
Portsmouth Gas Light Restaurant – 64 Market St, Portsmouth, NH 03801(603) 430- 9122, www.portsmouthgaslight.com
River House Restaurant – 53 Bow St. Portsmouth NH 03801 (603) 431-2600, www.riverhouse53bow.com
Old Salt Restaurant -490 Lafayette Road, Hampton, NH, 03802 (603) 926-8322, www.oldsaltnh.com
Retailers and Wholesalers:
Portsmouth Lobster Co. - 915 Sagamore Rd / Portsmouth, NH 03801
Tel. – 603-988-2526 Website – www.portsmouthlobster.com
Provides wholesale and retail supply of locally caught lobsters.
Seaport Fish - 13 Sagamore Rd. Portsmouth, NH and Fiddlehead Farms, Dover NH,
Tel. – 603-436-7286 Website – www.seaportfish.com
Provides wholesale and retail supply of locally caught fish (filleted or in the round), shell fish, & lobsters. Sign up for their email newsletter to receive information about specials.
Eastman’s Fish – 219 Ocean Blvd / Hampton, NH 03842
Tel. – 603-760-7422 Web contact – Carolyn@ckeconsulting.net
Provides wholesale and retail supply of locally caught fish (filleted or in the round), shellfish, & lobsters. Community Supported Fishery (CSF) shares available
Sanders Fish Market – 367 Marcy Street / Portsmouth, NH 03801
Tel. – 436-4568 Website – www.SandersFish.com
Provides retail supply of locally caught fish (filleted) and shellfish
Ricker Lobster Co. – 1 Steamboat Lane / New Castle, NH 03854
Tel. – 603-436-8421 Website – www.rickerlobster.com
Provides retail supply of locally caught lobster and lobster rolls.
Yankee Fishermen’s Co-op – Route 1A Ocean Blvd / Seabrook, NH 03874
Tel. – 1-800-486-8862 / 603-474-9850 Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Provides wholesale supply of locally caught fish (in the round) & lobsters. Winter northern shrimp CSF shares available
Rye Harbor Lobster – Rye Harbor/ Rte 1A , Rye, NH 03870
Tel. – 603-964-7845 Web contact – email@example.com
Provides retail supply of locally caught lobsters.
Philbrick’s Fresh Market – 775 Lafayette Rd. Portsmouth, NH 03801
Tel. – 603-422-6758 Website – www.philbricksfreshmarket.com
Provides retail supply of locally caught fish and lobster.
Community Supported Fisheries - CSFs
Several NH Seafood Fresh & Local partners are starting CSFs as a way to fulfill interest from consumers. (from NAMA), "Modeled after Community Supported Agriculture, a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) is a shore side community of people collaborating with local fishermen to buy fish directly for a predetermined length of time. CSF members (also called shareholders) give the fishermen financial support in advance of the season, and in turn receive a weekly share of seafood caught during the season. A member of a CSF has the benefit of knowing exactly where their food came from and who their fisherman is. By investing in their fishermen, a shareholder helps strengthen the local community.
You can join a local CSF now through Eastman's Fish, with pick-up locations in Rye, Durham, and Exeter. All the fish offered through this CSF qualifies for the NH Seafood brand by being locally caught, landed, and processed. Contact Carolyn Eastman: 603-760-7422 Carolyn@ckeconsulting.net
Coming this winter, the Yankee Fishermen's Coop will be offering a Northern Shrimp CSF. At this time, they are looking to gauge interest and figure out where pick up locations should be held. Fill out their form if you are thinking about it so that they can contact you when shares go on sale! (And remember, these seasonal shrimp freeze really well - this would be a great way to make sure you get your shrimp and have some to fill your freezer for the rest of the year!)
The Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative (YFC) will be offering shares for the upcoming Northern Shrimp season. As a participant in the community supported fishery, you will be supporting the NH commercial fishing industry and a sustainably harvested resource. Your shrimp will also carry the NH Fresh and Local brand which ensures that it was landed in NH and is the freshest available.
Interested? Click here for details and to fill out the interest form: http://cecf1.unh.edu/formbuilder/forms/form287_shrmpcsf.htm >
This article appears in the September 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine