Oregon fisheries eye community model

September 10, 2010 10:15

What started with the organic food movement has quickly morphed into a deep consumer analysis of what we eat, and why. From food miles to GMOs, issues surrounding the food system have increasingly become front-and-center political and social fodder for debate - and given rise to a variety of new business models, reports www.megafishnet.com with reference to Sustainable Business Oregon.

Enter the community-supported fishery. The concept is an adaptation of the venerable community-supported agriculture (CSA) model, where consumers purchase subscriptions from farms in exchange for a share of the harvest. And it's starting to attract attention in Oregon.

Community-supported fisheries are springing up in Atlantic communities, where shares of fresh fish and seafood can be purchased directly from fishermen. But until recently, it wasn't clear whether a community-supported fishery, or CSF, would be feasible in Oregon.

One of the largest obstacles for a CSF in Oregon is the distance between the coast and urban population centers - Portland is nearly 80 miles from the closest fishing community. Fresh seafood has a short shelf life, which creates logistics issues when transporting the processed product. Unless there's a guaranteed demand, fishermen can't afford the overhead involved in trucking fresh seafood, which must travel in refrigerated vehicles.

However, according to a recent study by Ecotrust, there is ample consumer demand in Oregon for a CSF. "There's room for further development," said Angela Orthmeyer, the lead on the CSF research study for Ecotrust, and a graduate student in Yale University's School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

On the East Coast, community-supported fisheries have seen incremental gains in seafood market share for the past few years.

"We've had pretty good luck with growth," said Glen Libby, president of Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a seafood cooperative based in Port Clyde, Maine.

Port Clyde was the first of 15 known CSFs established in the United States. Although fish sold through the CSF model only accounts for roughly 10 percent of Port Clyde's total catch, Libby says the program has enabled development of the young cooperative.

"It's been a great economic, and educational opportunity. We've received a lot of attention for the CSF," said Libby. In addition, the direct-to-consumer model has allowed more communication about issues surrounding fisheries, including seasonality and sustainability.

Although results of the Ecotrust report have not yet been made public, it remains evident that both consumers and Pacific fishermen are ready to experiment with a CSF model. An important indicator of this feasibility is the recent success, and expansion, of CSAs across Oregon - including the recent option of dairy and meat shares on top of usual produce.

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