Who Fishes Matters: N.E. Fishmongers

Who Are the New England Fishmongers?

We are a group of commercial fishermen that sell our catch to consumers directly off our boat. We own the entire process from start to finish, including catching, filleting, packaging and selling the fish ourselves. Captain Tim Rider, owner of New England Fishmongers, began fishing commercially when he was 20 years old, but began selling his catch directly to consumers in 2018. We believe that with every added middleman in the seafood industry, the story and quality of the fish is lost. Over the past year, our customer base has grown ten-fold and we’ve gained over 10,000 followers on social media that follow our market schedule each week to purchase our fresh fish. We supply fish to thousands of customers throughout New England at farm stands and farmers markets alongside other small-scale producers.

Commercial fishing has, and always will be, a dangerous job. In fact, it’s considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. We risk our lives year-round in the icy waters of the Gulf of Maine to bring the freshest fish to our communities. Our jobs are challenging, physically and mentally, however we are so passionate about our work and our customer base is what keeps us inspired and driven each week.

Unfortunately, over the past ten years, policymakers have created and implemented a system of management that has led to consolidation of the fishing fleet, making it much harder for small-scale fishermen like New England Fishmongers, to survive.

What is the Catch-Share System and How Does it Hurt Small-Scale Fishing?

In 2010, the New England Fisheries Management Council put in place a Catch-Share System for the region’s groundfish industry. Based on a qualifying period from 1996 to 2006, fishermen were granted the rights of the wild fish (called “quota”) based on how many pounds of fish they landed during this qualifying period, essentially converting public fish into private property. The fishermen that landed a large amount of fish during this period received more quota, while those who fished a little during the qualifying period received a smaller amount of quota. The fishermen then organized themselves into cooperatives called Sectors. Members of the sector can buy, sell or lease their quota to each other, with the idea that young fishermen with little quota can supplement their shares by leasing quota from other fishermen in their sector. Quota-rich fishermen have the option of leasing all of their shares, even after they’ve retired, and leave their permits next to kin, like a deed passed down from generation to generation.

Because there is no price cap on what a quota-holder can charge a lessee per pound of fish, many small lessees have quit fishing because they can’t afford to lease quota. As a result, many quota-rich fishermen have sold or leased their fish to the highest bidder, which are vessel owners, corporations, or environmental groups with the most buying power. In just two years, the total number of vessels dropped from 601 to 450, the number of boat owners with three or more vessels increased by a third, and over 85 percent of the groundfish revenues landed in the hands of just 20 percent of vessel owners. We believe this system of management is especially dangerous as we have observed small inshore-dependent fishermen get pushed out of their fishing grounds because the larger consolidated fleet that previously worked offshore, has increased fishing efforts on discrete fish populations, essentially without limits.

How We Are Beating The System  

Creating New England Fishmongers has allowed us to combat a political system that works against us. We don’t believe the industrial food model is the best option for our communities or society. Our business allows us to stand up against policymakers while educating the public on a daily basis. Our customers get a fresher product, with more transparency and traceability and the business allows us to give back to our communities by donating locally caught, fresh fish to food banks. Captain Tim also makes an effort to teach young aspiring fishermen how to fish commercially. With many small-scale fishermen leaving the industry, knowledge is being lost as well. Commercial fishing is not something that is learned in schools or through a textbook, but rather learned on the water, through participation and hard work.

By creating this business model, we’ve also created a more sustainable fishing model.

·        We harvest fish based on our customers needs, not overfishing for wholesale purposes.

·        We take care of each fish in every step of the process, from bleeding and brining each fish by hand, packing on ice, and filleting and vacuum-sealing with care.

·        Because our fish is so fresh when purchased, it has a five-to-seven-day shelf life, meaning less fish is wasted.

·        We educate our customers about trying underutilized species of fish, like redfish, skate and pollock, proving that all fish are great fresh.

·        We create very little waste: fish carcasses are used for lobster bait and fish skins are dehydrated to make dog treats.

·        We’ve chosen to not size fillets. Putting a higher price tag on larger fish means fishermen target larger fish, which tend to be the most productive, breeding fish.

How Donation Money Will be Spent

Our product has spoken for itself over the past year and has gained a massive following, with amazingly loyal customers that believe in us and our future. Many of you know us personally, and we have given new customers fish to try, we have connected personally to those in the community with a “thank-you” and a hand-shake, doing business the old-fashioned way. Many of you have seen us tired and worn out, selling fish at markets just hours after fishing trips, yet still with a smile on our face. We have donated and cooked fish for food banks during holidays and drop off any surplus fish we have to food programs.

Although we have built a successful and profitable business, our profits are taken away from us when we have to write checks to corporations and environmental groups that lease the rights of the wild fish to us for their own profits. On average, quota costs us 20-30% of our income, which is the capital we need to properly set up our business with basic infrastructure. All donations will be used toward helping solidify our business with basic equipment for our facility and boats. Items like an ice machine, vacuum-sealing machine, various gear and supplies are all start-up costs for our business that we struggle to afford. It would allow us to better serve our communities and make sure that we are capable of continuing our business, even when there are regulations that threaten our ability of continuing on.

We will be happy to match 15% of the total donations in fresh fish to local food banks over the next year, as well as donate our healthy fish skin pet treats to local shelters.

 For more information on catch-shares and our business model, please visit the following links:

1. Goldfarb (2013) The Catch 22 of New England Fisheries’ Catch Share Scheme. Earth Island Journal. www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/the_catch_22_of_new_england_fisheries_catch_share_scheme/ 

2. https://www.seacoastonline.com/news/20190117/wine-me-dine-me-ne-fishmongers-hope-to-bring-change-for-small-scale-commercial-fishermen 

3. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/01/22/sustainable-fishing-new-england 

4. https://www.foodandwine.com/seafood/making-waves 

5. http://www.namanet.org/links/fishermen-gulf-of-maine-say-they’re-being-‘driven-out-of-business’-by-quota-costs 

To Contact Us, please email Capt. Tim at [email redacted]  or Kayla at [email redacted]. 

www. newenglandfishmongers.com
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Kayla Cox 
Eliot, ME
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