Community-supported fish delivered to your door from the fisherman

There was excitement last year on North Haven when fisherman Matt Luck arrived with fresh sockeye salmon. Caught far away in the chilly waters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, why were islanders cheering?

“If you are going to buy salmon from Maine, it’s farmed salmon. This is very different. Everyone got to meet Matt, which is why people wanted to buy in the first place,” said Cecily Pingree, owner of Calderwood Hall restaurant and market on the island. She purchased enough sockeye to last her all year.

It’s a funny scenario. Fish from Alaska arriving by skiff to a tiny island in Maine by a bearded commercial fisherman from away. In Brunswick, 40 people welcomed Luck in the same fashion.

This year shares of Luck’s catch can be reserved beginning May 18 from his company Pride of Bristol Bay. Buying a 20-pound case of vacuum-packed fillets may sound excessive, but it’s a more sustainable way to shop. You lock in freshness and price, and “it encourages people not to get in their car when they think, ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’” Luck said. “The technology [for flash-freezing fresh fish] allows us to preserve this product.”

Loosely based on the community-supported agriculture model popular on farms, where shares of vegetables, flowers and fruit are purchased from a farmer long before they are harvested, customers reserve their fish before nets are cast. But why are Mainers going gaga over protein from away in a locavore economy?

“It’s important for people to realize, especially with seafood, that sometimes ‘local’ must extend beyond a geographic region,” said Monique Coombs, seafood program director for Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, who helped make Luck’s catch available to midcoasters. “The idea is, before you catch it, I promise I’ll buy it.“

The concept isn’t brand new. Now in its third year, Port Clyde Fresh Catch offers a community-supported fish drop. Customers can pick up local sole, flounder and crab meat in Rockland and Camden every week, year-round. Recently the fishermen cooperate created a more flexible, online weekly purchasing model. Business is brisk.

Unlike buying a share in a farm, which puts money in farmers’ pockets to make it through the season, supporting a fisherman such as Luck in advance helps him plan and handle logistics.

“I am more concerned about how much inventory I need, cold storage cost and shipping,” he said. “There is a limit for this product. I’m a very small cog in the wheel.”

Most large salmon producers don’t go as far as Luck, who sells traceable seafood, complete with codes informing consumers which river it was fished from.

Locking in texture, flavor and color, “fresh frozen seafood can be very good if it’s protected at time of harvest,” Luck said.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to find a way to do it that has the least impact,” said Luck, who uses biodegradable material and sends fish here via barge to then hand-deliver to consumer.

His direct model is unique and time-consuming.

“People have no idea where their fish comes from,” Luck said. “By sourcing it from the companies I fish for I am calling it out, helping people make that connection to understand where protein comes from.”

Luck said, “The big companies sell it like a commodity. The story behind this is a whole model. I am willing to make a commitment, producing it with high quality standards. It’s as fine a product as you can buy anywhere.”

To Coombs, connecting consumers with stewards of sustainability is key.

“I’m trying to add value to our fishermen’s product. My goal is to get people excited,” Coombs said. “The bigger thing is for consumers to understand the diversity in the United States, not just Maine. They should be asking questions about their seafood and where it comes from.”

On the small island of North Haven, such questions are asked daily.

“We have pretty active buyers,” Pingree said. “Things like fresh eggs and local raspberries are the first things to sell.”

And Luck, who will make the trek out again in October, is becoming a familiar, positive presence.

“This is a connection with a fisherman and a premium product that people wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Pingree. “From my perspective, it is another source of great food that we are able to get our hands on.”

Here are Coombs’ tips on how to handle fresh and frozen fish:

— Storing fresh fish in a baking dish between two ice packs helps keep fish colder and, therefore, extends its refrigerated life by two to three days.

— Buy seafood in bulk and freeze. Seafood freezes just as well as other proteins. Don’t be afraid to buy frozen fish or freeze fish when you get home from shopping. (You can also cook fish from frozen. Take that, chicken.)

— Seafood is seasonal, just like agricultural products. Learn what’s in season and the different species Maine has to offer. What’s underutilized today could be overfished tomorrow if we continue to build markets for specific species instead of spreading the love around all of Maine’s great ocean offerings. A great resource is CEI’s Seafood Guide: ceimaine.org/maine-seafood-study/.

— This is a tip I learned from an old-timer: If you’re going to make chowder with fish, you can freeze the fish in milk. That way, when it’s time to make the chowder, you just drop the fish and milk in the pot and cook!

— Lastly, I would say, cooking fish doesn’t have to be hard. Learn one or two great recipes, and you can actually cook a number of other species the same way. Hake, cod, pollock, flounder — just add a little butter and garlic and throw under the broiler for 10 to 15 minutes. Done.

BRISTOL BAY AMBASSADORS: MATT LUCK

Forward by Jenny Weis

Matt Luck approached us at Save Bristol Bay early last year and pitched the idea of his new business, Pride of Bristol Bay. He described that his goal was to deliver sustainable, delicious Bristol Bay salmon directly to consumers across the U.S. He also mentioned that he wanted to use a part of his proceeds to help in the fight against Pebble mine. We were instantly inspired by his enthusiasm, both for sustainable salmon and protecting Bristol Bay from Pebble, and automatically in support of sharing delicious wild Bristol Bay salmon with dinner tables and restaurants in Brooklyn, NY, Jackson Hole, WY and Boston, Mass and beyond. Matt’s first season in business was a big success and we wanted to introduce him to all of you!

Learn about the Bristol Bay Ambassadors program here.

1. Company/position: Pride of Bristol Bay, Founder/Principal

2. Home City: Ketchum, Idaho

3. Tell us about your business.

Pride of Bristol Bay delivers the world’s finest, sustainable sockeye salmon directly to its customers and donates a portion of its proceeds to Save Bristol Bay. Our goal at Pride of Bristol Bay is to reach out to the demographic of consumers, chefs and restaurants that demand a traceable product, harvested responsibly from a sustainable resource and provide them the very finest flash frozen wild salmon from the national treasure that is Bristol Bay.

4. Tell us a little bit about your background and connection to Bristol Bay.

I came to Alaska in 1976 from New England and married in Cordova 1983. For 40 years I have been a commercial fisherman throughout Alaska. I first came to Bristol Bay as a crewman on a drift gillnetter in 1979 and fish there today as the owner/operator of the drift gillnetter F/V Meg J. I have served on many Boards, Advocacy Groups, Panels and Committees related to resource management, advocacy and commercial fishing issues. Most recently I served as an industry member on the panel charged with recommending new escapement goals for Bristol Bay’s river systems to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. I am a current marketing committee member and former board member and marketing committee chair with the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

5. Why did you decide to dedicate a portion of your proceeds to TU for the Save Bristol Bay effort?

I was living in Cordova, Ak in 1989, raising a young family with my wife and completely engaged in our community and the commercial fishing industry. The socio-economic impact of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound was devastating and profound. Listening to the disposition and dialogue of the Pebble Partnership and their multinational partners regarding sustainable resource concerns bears a haunting resemblance to the rhetoric I heard in 1989 and sends shivers down my spine. The wild sockeye salmon resource is the core asset of the Bristol Bay region. I would hope that our humble donation serves as example to create continued financial support from all stakeholders to those that advocate for the resource that is imbedded in the culture, community and economy of the Bristol Bay region.

6. What do you wish others knew about Bristol Bay?

The entire wild salmon regime in Bristol Bay is a shining example of what is achievable when responsible management is combined with collaboration and communication between all stakeholders. The world needs to know that these places of sheer, raw beauty, full to the brim with robust natural resources still exist and require our diligent support and stewardship.

7. What is the most rewarding part about helping the fight against Pebble?

Knowing that in some small way our effort may encourage others to acknowledge the need for their concern and support and continue to strengthen the collective message that needs to grow stronger every day .

8. When you think of the future of Bristol Bay, what gives you a sense of hope? What makes you concerned or worried?

The collaborative effort of so many individuals and groups advocating on behalf of Bristol Bay bodes well for the future, particularly the young watershed residents that have played such a key role in sharing this story and growing support throughout the U.S.

The concern as always centers around what might happen in the political landscape that could influence decisions based on personal agenda and profit rather than sound, responsible decision making.

9. Anything else you want Save Bristol Bay readers to know?

I hope everyone recognizes that this effort shows what we can begin to accomplish when we put aside our personal agendas as sport, commercial, personal use or subsistence fishers and work together to protect and enhance the resource that is central to all of our lives and communities.

Check out Matt’s business, Pride of Bristol Bay today & reserve your share for 2016!

Sockeye salmon: From Alaska to Orleans

COMMENTARY: FISHING AROUND

Darren Saletta owns Monomoy Sportfishing out of Chatham and fishes commercially, too. Now he’s got a line on some Alaskan salmon that he wants to tell you about.

“You’re supporting small boat commercial fishermen,” says Saletta. “It’s basically a community supported fishery model for other sustainable fisheries within our borders.”
Prices are a little over $200 for 20 pounds of salmon. You can go to prideofbristolbay.com for more information or to reserve your order.

This is wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, praised for its sustainable harvest by everyone from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (“best choice” category) to Whole Foods fish sustainability chart (“healthy choice”), among others.

I spoke with Matt Luck, who grew up in Boston. By commercial salmon and crab fishing out west, Luck put himself through the University of New Hampshire.

Luck is part of the Pride of Bristol Bay fleet, a fishing co-operative of some 98 family owned, independent operators with a dedicated shoreside processing location. With around 1,500 commercial boats plying Bristol Bay and environs, the Pride of Bristol Bay fleet set themselves apart with rigorous quality standards. The fish are bled at sea and slipped immediately into a cold salt water slurry that induces rigor and keeps the fillets firm. Then they get bagged and flash frozen, ready to ship.

Luck said his family eats sockeye all the time. “I like the clean, fresh flavor,” says Luck. “Beautiful colors, firm texture. I’ll grill it, make salmon salad out of it, smoke some, even serve it as sashimi or seared ahi.”

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