In some coastal communities, the idea continues to evolve by expanding into wild-caught fish with CSFs (Community Supported Fishery). Members partner with small-boat fishermen and collect weekly shares of fresh shrimp, cod, haddock, pollock, flounder and more.
The nation's first official CSF was launched in Maine by Port Clyde Fresh Catch in December 2007 when 29 initial members signed-up for weekly allotments of fresh winter shrimp. Since then, the CSF has added shares of summer groundfish, and membership swelled to 350 members.
In Boston, more than 1,100 area residents leaped at the chance to participate in the Cape Ann Fresh Catch this summer. Members flocked to filleting demonstrations, shared tips on how to properly make fumet and swapped recipes for fish casseroles and tacos.
This fall, students from Duke University in Durham, N.C., teamed with local fishermen from Carteret County to launch Walking Fish. Subscription prices for the 12-week program ranged from $70-$420 and quickly sold-out. After only a month in operation, the group was tapped as a winner at the 2009 Sustainable North Carolina Awards.
On a smaller scale, Organic, Inc. author, Sam Fromartz launched a "SeaSA" in Washington, D.C. His model emphasizes choosing sustainable fish over fish that is purely local. Fromartz worked with a gillnet fisherman from Copper River, Alaska, to supply Coho salmon in season. He's currently looking into providing Oregon albacore and farm-raised oysters to his members as well.
Industry eyes are on these early models, and experts predict the concept of CSFs will soon spread to the West Coast. But unlike traditional CSAs where the ideas of local and/or organic are straightforward, the CSF is not without controversy. Some of the species being caught are red-listed by environmental groups because of overfishing concerns. The gear used by fishermen may also be troubling. Trawlers, for example, drag along the seafloor damaging important habitat while snagging by-catch.
CSF groups are beginning to address some of these issues. The Port Clyde CSF has been experimenting with net sizes that will allow juvenile fish to escape, while the neighboring Boston group will require participating fishermen to use new gear, designed to reduce their environmental impact as they harvest this winter's shrimp catch.