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Scituate's Seafood Exchange popular only three months into program

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 20, 2012 04:40 PM

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Jessica Bartlett

(Above) Marj Bates waits for customers to come pick up fresh fish as part of a new organization intent on connecting local fishermen to the public. (Left) A customer comes to collect her weekly allotment of fish.

For Scituate residents Jay Silva and Marj Bates, the thought of the struggling fishermen trying to make a living off their shores was too troubling to ignore.

Not only do today’s fishermen face increased federal regulations, but the ability for them to sell their catch outside of local food vendors is limited.

“I read in the Globe that 85 percent of our fishes come from Thailand and China, and I looked around and couldn’t find any local fish any place,” Bates said. “So Jay and I went to a Sustainable Scituate meeting, and we met [local fisherman] Frank Mirarchi and someone who started a fishery in Gloucester … and we discussed it and decided to start something like this.”

Enter the South Shore Seafood Exchange Inc., a new project that looks to connect local fishermen directly with the customers.

The idea for the organization started at a Sustainable Scituate meeting in February when Silva and Bates first heard about the fishermen’s problems.

Soon thereafter, they had conceptualized a plan.

Members sign up for a 10 week buy in, and either pay a half share – a pound of filleted fish every week for 10 weeks, or a full share – two pounds of filleted fish every week for 10 weeks.

A selection of fish is available to the customer, and types of fish change every week. Customers can chose what kind of fish they want on a first come, first served basis.

“This is a solution to do two things. Connect the fishermen to the community, make the opportunities for the fishermen’s wares to be something the local community can acknowledge getting,” Silva told selectmen in a meeting in early August.

“The second thing is to bring the community a larger education about the kinds of fish these fishermen catch,” Silva said. “Years ago, folks would eat carp, today that’s rarely done. Flounder, cod and haddock…they have 10 other species they catch on a regular basis. If there was a market for it, [they could sell it].”

Although they have only been selling fish since June, the organization already has almost 100 members.

“The fishermen are happy they are selling locally and now we’re just working to get the numbers up. Our goal is to reestablish the link between the local fishermen and the people,” Bates said.

Typically, fish are caught on Wednesday, sent to a company to be filleted and packaged on Thursday, and then sold out of the Roman Table store on Front Street every Friday afternoon from 3 p.m. till 5 p.m.

Long term, the idea is to establish a store along the waterfront where fish can be sold directly from the sea to the customer.

And although the organization has hopes to expand, right now its goal is to grow the membership.

“We need to grow the numbers, that’s our main focus, so that’s what we’re doing. But wouldn’t it be cool if these fishermen could have their own place in the harbor and sell directly to the public? That’s what we hope,” Bates said. “These pour guys … I can’t imagine how they are doing it. These towns are built on the fishing community … my heart goes out to these guys, it’s insanity. It’s in their blood, they did this for generations, its what they do, so anything we can do to help them, I’m psyched.”

Because the organization is still new, Bates said her and Silva are working on getting the kinks out, such as how much to order every week.

Currently, she multiplies the number of pounds she needs by 2.5 to account for pounds lost when the fish is filleted, but even still there is extra.

Yet even that isn’t going to waste. Any extra food is being donated to the food pantry, Bates said.

For more information about the organization or to join in on the food share, visit the organization’s website.

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