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September 10, 2021

Charitable seafood program serves both fishermen and the food insecure

fish and ice in totes Courtesy / Mary Hudson, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association’s Fishermen Feeding Mainers program bought more than 170,000 pounds of fish from Maine small-boat fishermen, helping to stabilize fishermen's income after restaurant and wholesale seafood markets crashed last year.

The past year’s decrease in restaurant and wholesale markets, domestically and overseas, made it difficult for Maine fishermen to get a fair price for their catch. 

But a charitable seafood program implemented a year ago has helped provide a reliable revenue stream to some small-boat fishermen – while also contributing to food security around the state.

Since last September, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association in Brunswick raised nearly $1 million from grant funding and individual donors to purchase fish directly from fishermen and donate it to local schools, food banks and community groups. To date, the program, called Fishermen Feeding Mainers, has purchased 170,000 pounds of fish, in turn providing 230,000 meals. 

Last week, 29,000 pounds of fresh fish were landed at the Portland Fish Exchange, the highest volume Portland has seen in one day since before the pandemic, according to a news release. Of that, the association bought 10,000 pounds to donate for 15,000 meals. 

When the program started, fish was purchased from 12 small-boat fishermen who land in Maine. Since then, the program has attracted two additional boats, which switched their landing port from out-of-state to Portland to have a more reliable market for their catch. 

The program now donates to over 60 organizations across the state, from Kennebunkport to Millinocket. This includes several multicultural groups like the New England American-Arab Organization, Presente Maine/The Food Brigade and Wabanaki REACH, as well as Angolan and Somali community groups. The recipient organizations span the age range as well. For example, daycare centers have served fresh fish as well as Harpswell’s Aging at Home program, Lunch with Friends.

The association is a nonprofit that supports local fishermen and sustainable fisheries in the Gulf of Maine.

The association said the program is now expanding to donations for school lunches.

Seafood education

Through the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program, it became apparent that many consumers don’t know much about the species that are caught locally and are not familiar with how to cook and handle fresh fish. To that end, the association is partnering with Maine Sea Grant and the Department of Education through Sea Grant’s Covid-19 Response Funding to purchase fish, process it and develop educational tools. 

One of the tools to be created is a series of recipe cards that will feature pollock, hake and monkfish – three of the species most commonly donated through the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program. Recipes for pollock tacos, hake cakes and baked monkfish will include nutritional information and will be translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and French. The goal is to help recipients through food banks as well as those in supporting food service to learn easy recipes to prepare for clients. 

For schools, other tools might include fish playing cards and games to learn more about common species caught in the Gulf of Maine. 

The Fishermen Feeding Mainers program continues to raise funds. To learn more, click here.


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