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Updated: April 16, 2024

With $750K in new funds, charitable seafood program will buy more fish, feed more Mainers

person cutting fish on boat COURTESY / SCOTT GABLE Portland fisherman Vincent Balzano deals with a monkfish aboard his boat.

Fishermen Feeding Mainers, a program of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association in Brunswick, said it will receive $750,000 in federal funding thanks to an appropriations request submitted by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine. 

The money will be administered by the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine. 

The Fishermen Feeding Mainers program began in October 2020, as the pandemic spurred more food insecurity and the collapse of local seafood markets in Maine.

“Participating in Fishermen Feeding Mainers has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me both personally and as a member of the MCFA and Maine commercial fishing industry,” said fisherman Vincent Balzano, owner and operator of the fishing vessel Northern Lights out of Portland.

“Being able to help feed my neighbors is an important part of why I became a fisherman, and I am proud that I can help put healthy food on the tables of families in my community.”

Initially funded by an anonymous foundation, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association partnered with Good Shepherd to distribute donated fish to food pantries, meal sites and additional hunger-relief organizations throughout the state. 

Today the program receives funding from the state and hundreds of individuals, businesses and foundations. The association buys fish directly from Maine fishermen, which is then processed locally and donated to Good Shepherd and distributed to food pantries, meal sites, schools and other community organizations. 

“Feeding Maine communities local seafood, and especially getting local seafood into schools is a huge win for our state,” said Ben Martens, the association’s executive director.

Good Shepherd is Maine’s largest hunger relief organization.

Through the program, Good Shepherd has obtained more than 800,000 pounds of fish — including haddock, cod, monkfish, flounders such as dabs and grey sole, and pollock — worth more than $9.75 million.

"The addition of locally caught fish enriches nutritional diversity, furthering our mission to provide increased access and nutritious options to our neighbors facing food insecurity," said the food bank's president, Heather Paquette.

This spring, the program reached a milestone of having provided over 1 million meals to more than 250 food pantries and 30 school districts from Kittery to Fort Kent. Today the total is 1.25 million meals. The association also works with other community groups and pantries to provide fish to multicultural and New Mainer families. 

The latest federal funding “will assist the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and their partners in their efforts to support Maine’s fishermen, working waterfronts, and blue economy while supplying fresh, healthy seafood to those in need,” said Collins.

Said King, “People across Maine deserve access to basic food and nutrition, no matter what town or socioeconomic background they come from.”

The association said its goal is to grow the program. Food pantry advocates said they welcome the initiative.

“Food insecurity continues to be an issue in our state as we move beyond the pandemic with one in four Maine children at risk for hunger,” said Don Morrison, operations director of Wayside Food Programs in Portland. “Fishermen Feeding Mainers has had a measurable impact on our ability to serve families in need.”

The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association is an industry-led nonprofit working to enhance the ecological and financial sustainability of Maine fisheries through advocacy, education, outreach and collaborative research projects. 

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