CSAs for the Sea

Here at the Santa Barbara Farmer’s market, I’ve been delighted that we have local fish, ridgeback shrimp, mussels, and oysters. They’re amongst the tastiest seafood I’ve eaten (last week’s pumpkin shrimp risotto that I whipped up was one of the all time most amazing things I’ve ever cooked).

One thing I’ve always admired is that the lovely fresh seasonal sustainably farmed veggies one can get at the farmers market can also be purchased via a Community Supported Agriculture organization. CSA’s are awesome, in that a farm offers “shares” to the public. The subscribers pay up front for, say, a box of vegetables that they pick up weekly, hence giving them cash up front so that they can plan their season. This promotes good (and seasonal) eating on the part of consumers, good farming practices on the part of farmers (many CSAs are organic, etc, given the type of consumer that goes for these sorts of efforts), and fosters a nice sense of community between farmer and consumer.

Intriguingly, the model for veggies has caught on for meat, so that in many places you can now get a “meat share” from places like the Sonoma County Meat Buying Club.

So with all of this promotion for sustainable, quality, communal food buying from terrestrial sources, I’ve long wondered – why are there not CSA’s for the sea? Why not pool a bunch of consumers who get their weekly fish, so that they can subsidize the costs of fishing, provide support through good and bad years. Most importantly, this would tie people more closely to the fishing policies that happen right off their coast, giving them a reason to understand and financially address important marine policy issues, and promoting better stewardship of this precious resource. So rather than a CSA, what about a CSF (community supported fishery), if you will.

Well, it looks like it has happened! The Port Clyde Fresh Catch seafood cooperative has worked in collaboration with the Island Institute, the Nature Conservancy, and the Penobscot East Resource Center to set up a CSF provides weekly fish shares, in addition to settling at local farmer’s markets. The offer a variety of fish and shrimp CSF options. And being a modern organization, they even have a facebook page.

Fortunately, this doesn’t appear to be an isolated phenomenon. Around Boston, the Cape Ann Fresh Catch started up last summer (there was even an article in the Wall Street Journal). Intriguingly, they also take a very long careful and nuanced look at what it means to say that their actions are sustainable. And, of course, they have a facebook page.

There’s also a CSF in North Carolina called Walking Fish (also on facebook – sheesh!) They’ve recently been nominated for a sustainability award. And Skipper Otto’s in Vancouver (obligatory fb link).

What a great model. I hope it catches on here in California, and paves a way for future local sustainable fishing policy by really coupling local communities to the seas around them.

Update: The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance actually maintains a list of all CSFs in the US.