Thursday, July 15, 2010

Eating Fish Sustainably- CSF!

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays hosted by Food Renegade. Go check out other fantastic posts by "Real Foodies!" :)

Nova Scotia... if you know about the province at all (and trust me, you don't have to only be American to fall for this one... I've had plenty of Canadians ask me if Nova Scotia was off of Newfoundland...), you think ocean and fish. And maybe beer.

Growing up as a lobster fisherman's daughter, the ocean and my community of fishermen and their families have been the core of my sense of self. I watch my community suffer through being undersold and undervalued. All the while the consumer continues to buy the cheap fish and lobster, completely oblivious to the sweat and manipulation that has gone into their food.

For this very reason, I have always refused to buy frozen (or fresh) fish and lobster from grocery stores. For one, the fish are rarely ever 'fresh'- unless your definition of fresh is sitting in a holding tank with thousands of other lobsters for months on end counts. Also, by buying this grocery store fish I'm supporting a system that pays the fisherman pennies for their work.  Finally, haddock (my favourite white fish) is typically dragged- which is hugely destructive to the bottom of the ocean floor (basically a bunch of heavy wheels on the end of a large net that rolls along the ocean floor, ripping it up and catching many other fish as a result).

Our fishing community here in Nova Scotia is floundering and we need a way to help keep it together. 

Last week I was astounded to hear about a local CSF. Yep- Community Supported Fisheries. How COOL is that? With a name like 'Off the Hook' this CSF has a fabulous idea and sustainable practices that could revolutionize the way Nova Scotians think about their fish.

With the support of 5 Dibgy groundfish fishermen, Off the Hook provides local, sustainably caught groundfish to Nova Scotians in the format of 8 weekly deliveries. The fish are all caught by hook and line, meaning less by-catch (if any, they can just throw them back out), no harmful dragging and beautiful sustainable haddock, hake and pollack. 

It works just like a CSA, in that you pay for a half share or whole share and get a certain amount of fish per delivery (they deliver in Halifax). Included in the price are filleting and cooking lessons (for whole ground fish), a visit with the fishermen, a possible potluck and a 'warm fuzzy feeling' because you are providing a fair price for sustainably caught fish. Kinda like fair trade, but with fish!

It's their first season this summer and it is essential that they are successful for future growth and change. I was so excited that I immediately contacted them asking for a quick interview. Sadie Beaton, the CSF Coordinator immediately emailed me back and answered all my answers completely and fully. It was a real pleasure to find such open and honest communication.

Unfortunately, due to our current economic situation (umm, wedding planning and continue job insecurity) we just couldn't fit it into out budget. But we're hoping for next year, or a possible different fishing season!

Without further ado, here's our quick interview :)
1. A CSF is such an innovative idea for this region and very exciting! What prompted the decision to get this started?

We are pretty excited about this new seafood direct marketing initiative, the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada. Last summer I was working on a research study outlining some barriers and opportunities for seafood direct marketing in NS - you can access it here:’s-sea-shores-0.  Basically we found that Haligonians expressed a strong affinity for local seafood and a willingness to pay a little more for directly marketed fish - particularly if the premium were to support fishers, coastal communities or the ocean environment. The message we heard from local small scale fishers again and again was that they were feeling driven towards direct marketing by various frustrations from low prices in the industrial globalized food system to lack of livelihood control. They were seeing that rather than feeling at the whim of the large corporate supply chain, direct marketing strategies including CSFs could allow fishers to protect their livelihoods as seafood markets continue to shift and often squeeze them tightly.

After this study, a few key fishers were game for taking the step to partner with an environmental group like Ecology Action Centre to launch a CSF, with the hopes that we could create a successful, strong example of a new way of doing the seafood business, one that respects local communities, economies and the marine environment. Over the past six months or so we have had converations back and forth until we were ready to incorporate as a Co-op back in the beginning of June to deliver Atlantic Canada's first CSF!

2. How did you approach and convince local fishermen to climb on board (hehe) with this concept? Was it difficult to find fishermen who used sustainable fishing methods (i.e. hook and line as opposed to dragging?).

EAC has a longstanding relationship with several groups of small-scale fishermen using low impact gears like bottom hook and line.  Rather than working to "convince them" of our concept, we worked with these guys to kind of develop and grow the idea. We did introduce the idea of the CSF to the group of fishermen we are working with, but they were very receptive and have worked every step of the way to help lead the design and intent of the initiative.

3. What sorts of surprises and obstacles have you as a CSF encountered so far along your Journey?

We are so young - we haven't had deliveries yet. But we have been surprised by the amount of support and excitement we've had from people all over - especially the flood of emails from far-away places in Ontario looking to access our fish, and especially for ways to support coastal livelihoods and sustainable fishing methods. It is really uplifting to know there is such a groundswell of support - now we hope to see that matched by policies that can make it easier for small-scale fishermen to direct market their products and fill those niches.

4. If this season is a success, will you be planning on extending the CSF to other fish seasons (such as lobster?). Would there be different challenges in assuring sustainable fishing methods for different fish-crustacean? 

We have lots of ideas for ways to extend and expand the CSF into the future, but right now what we want to do is just concentrate on thinking small - getting the model working really simply and well so we can then help other communities and groups of fishers to set up other CSFs and similar direct marketing initiatives that help connect consumers with local, sustainably caught seafood. 

There is some interest in expanding to include other local seafood in the future from lobster to clams. Every different fishery will have its unique challenges, both logistically and policy-wise... we'll cross those bridges if and when we come to them.

There you have it, an amazing organization and an exciting new project that could help boost Nova Scotia's fishing industry. If you're a Nova Scotian and would like to know more, or would like to support the CSF, please check out their website and sign up! ***Deadline is Tuesday July 20th 2010!!*** 

There is absolutely *nothing* like freshly caught haddock.... I say this with experience. Nothing better. Yum!

Many Blessings!


  1. What an awesome idea. Makes me wish I lived near the coast!!

  2. I can't wait to get my first delivery! I think this is an amazing idea!

  3. When our PEI premier went to Arizona and ordered PEI mussels, he was informed that PEI was somewhere off the coast of Italy!!!!!


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