Midwest’s First Community Supported Fishery

Many of us concerned about the impact of our food dollars support small farmers through Community Supported Agriculture and farmers markets. Now the Midwest’s first Community Supported Fishery gives those of us far from a coast an option in the seafood arena.

I learned about Sitka Salmon Shares at FoodCon. It’s an operation bringing sustainable seafood to the heartland on a direct-to-consumer model—similar to Community Supported Agriculture.

Anyone in a landlocked area who wants to buy local has a hard time with fish.* Especially when, as in Indiana’s case, the majority of our waterways are tainted with mercury due to coal plants.

Sitka Salmon Shares has a crew of independent, small boat family fishermen and -women who catch Alaskan salmon, halibut and cod with low-impact methods. The flash-frozen fish lands on the dinner tables of Midwesterners hungry for a protein source that’s healthy, delicious, and sustainably harvested.

Fishing Boats in Metlakatla, Alaska, ca. 1856 - 1936. National Archives and Records Administration.

Fishing Boats in Metlakatla, Alaska, ca. 1856 – 1936. National Archives and Records Administration.

From the website:

“In this day and age, we face a large industrial food system that too often puts profit ahead of people, communities, and the environment … in the process quickly replacing small family producers with huge companies and multinational corporations. It’s hard to feel good about eating food from such a system.”

And how. But here’s an alternative.

Sitka returns 1% of revenue to fisheries conservation. It also pays fishermen more than they could earn from big multinational processors. Further, rather than using trawls that result in large amounts of unwanted fish being thrown overboard, Sitka’s fishing families use hook-and-line methods to minimize impacts on unintended species.

These practices sustain ecosystems, fishing communities, and fish populations, while giving customers peace of mind as well.

At FoodCon I picked up a pocket guide from these folks: I love their sustainable seafood commandments for the Midwest. (Among them: Gear types matter. Also: Frozen and canned fish are often better choices.)

Here’s a great interview with Chief Salmon Steward Nic Mink that explains more.

Nic does double duty, serving as Butler University’s Center for Urban Ecology’s Urban Sustainable Foods Fellow.

As an aside, I really think he has two of the best job titles ever.

He will be speaking at the July 16 Irvington Green Hour about his work with the Indy Food Council, building the capacity of sustainable food systems in Indianapolis.

(*Some readers may remember my pledge to try sardines in an effort to eat lower on the food chain. I have yet to crack the tin I purchased. It is on my list. I guess you could say I’m nothing if not deliberate in my food choices. I could deliberate a long time here.)

I’ve Got a Tin of Sardines…

…and I’m not afraid to use it!

By jules (Flickr: sardines in a can) via Wikimedia Commons

By jules (Flickr: sardines in a can) via Wikimedia Commons

Actually, I am, a little. I bought the tin weeks ago at the Co-op in hopes of eating lower on the food chain. I have not yet worked up the nerve to peel back that shiny lid and peek inside. I may need a clothespin for my nose when I do. Little fishies can be so…fishy.

But I’m determined to conquer my fear of the little fishies and make them part of my diet. Or at least ingest them once and see if it’s possible to consider…one day…loving them as much as I love salmon. Why? Efficiency of dining, mainly. If I eat a sardine instead of the big fish that eats the sardine–no matter how much more appealing said big fish might be–I reduce my impact.

It seems I know too much. And I can’t un-know what I know. What we eat has consequences. In the case of seafood, overfishing is rampant, and then there’s pollution, climate change, habitat destruction, and ocean acidification. Leaving us with a “system in crisis,” according to the National Geographic.

All that knowledge makes my fallback choice on any restaurant menu, salmon, seem a bit fraught.

Though according to the National Geographic Seafood Decision Guide, salmon–at least wild-caught Alaskan salmon–is actually one of the better choices in the ocean-going protein buffet. It is “abundant, well-managed, and caught or farmed in ocean-friendly ways.” Three cheers for that.

But sardines are equally well rated, equally low in mercury, and equally high in omega-threes. Then there’s the fact that it takes five pounds of forage fish to produce a pound of farm-raised fish. So I still feel bound to try these little fishy-fishes.

By TANAKA Juuyoh Uploaded by Jacopo Werther) via Wikimedia Commons

By TANAKA Juuyoh (Uploaded by Jacopo Werther) via Wikimedia Commons

It strikes me, unpleasantly, that they’re kind of like the worms and grubs of the ocean world. Grubs are food for birds; sardines are food for bigger fish, and for chickens and pigs too.

No matter: I’m sure they’re deelish. (Just like grubs, which, after all, are food for people all over the world. I wrote a piece about that once, and fully expect to one day venture bugward in my dining.)

Helpfully, in the meantime Slow Food International has begun a push for upping human consumption of anchovies, complete with recipe contest. (Nate at the Co-op shook his head at my sardine purchase and advised anchovies next time.)

Oh faithful readers, do you eat sardines or anchovies, those humble fishies known as forage fish? If so, pray, how do you fix them? Give me some ideas to go with Slow Food’s and Rachael Ray’s suggestions. I promise to report back after my first foray into this brave new culinary world.