Posted: Tuesday, December 2, 2014 11:08 am by ELIZABETH W. SAITO www.capenews.net
On Monday evening, December 1, two fishermen from Chatham handed out frozen fillets of dogfish caught last month in the waters off Cape Cod to clients of the Falmouth Service Center’s food pantry.
A little past 5 PM, Tammy M. Corey of Woods Hole pushed her cart down the food counter to where the two fishermen, Doug R. Feeney and Luther J. Bates, stood by a freezer. Ms. Corey gladly accepted the 1 1/2-pound-bag of fillets. “I never pass on fresh fish,” she said.
Ms. Corey works part time in the prepared foods section of a grocery store deli, but said she does not make enough money to afford buying expensive foods like fish. “Usually the only time I get it is when friends catch it,” she said with a laugh.
Mr. Bates told her dogfish is “very versatile” and could be fried, baked, or ground up into fish cakes. Ms. Corey said she would probably bake the fish or make it into a chowder. “It’s so healthy for you,” she said.
The fish was supplied to the service center by The Family Pantry of Cape Cod in Harwich, which has been partnering with Chatham fishermen to make local fish available to needy families since August 2013. A combination of local grants is making it possible for that pantry to buy fish from local fishermen at a market rate and distribute it to needy residents. The initiative satisfies three objectives: it supports the local fishing industry, provides a healthy source of protein to people who otherwise could not afford it, and helps expand the market for locally abundant but commercially underutilized fish species.
“We’re importing cod from Iceland, instead of eating delicious whitefish from our waters,” said Nancy A. Civetta, communications director for the Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s alliance, who was on hand Monday night with the fishermen.
Likewise, Mr. Bates noted, dogfish is actually a desirable species—in Europe. “But wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to ship it across the ocean?” he asked. Because of the increased costs associated with shipping dogfish to distant markets, Mr. Bates said he only gets about 20 cents a pound for his dogfish. By contrast, locally landed cod fetches $3 to $4 a pound.
Brenda B. Swain, the service center’s director, approached the fishermen and thanked them for making the trip down to Falmouth. “It was incredibly wonderful to meet the two of you,” she said, shaking their hands.
Although canned tuna is regularly available, Ms. Swain said this is the first time the Falmouth Service Center has been able to offer local fish to clients. The Greater Boston Food Bank stocks fish sticks and other processed fish products at prices she can afford, but “I wouldn’t buy them because I look at the labels,” Ms. Swain said. “We’ve been working really hard on nutrition.”
When available, Ms. Swain does purchase frozen polluck fillets from The Great Boston Food Bank. It costs $2.04 per pound. But the fish is from China, Ms. Swain said, and it would be better to offer a local product that supports a local industry.
The Falmouth Service Center is the first pantry to receive surplus fish from The Family Food Pantry of Cape Cod. The Harwich pantry donated half of the 2,700 pounds of dogfish it purchased in November to Falmouth. Mary E. Anderson, the Harwich pantry’s director, said she paid $3.62 per pound for the dogfish fillets; that price includes the labor to fillet the fish and transport it to New Bedford for freezing and packaging. Next April, Ms. Anderson wants to scale up and purchase 8,000 pounds of skate wings from the Chatham fishermen and distribute it to all the food pantries on Cape Cod.
“We wanted to work out the kinks and price points before we tried to involve more sites,” Ms. Anderson said by phone Tuesday morning. This will spend down the remaining $25,000 of the $49,000 grants awarded to run the “Fish for Families” pilot program. Funders were the United Way of Cape Cod, The Palmer and Jane D. Davenport Foundation, Cape Cod Healthcare, and the Kelley Foundation.
“To me, it [skate wing] tastes like crab, it’s fabulous,” Ms. Anderson said.
Once the money for the pilot runs out, Ms. Anderson said she will try to figure out how to make the program sustainable for the long term. This will likely involve charging the pantries a reduced rate for the fish, and supplementing the remainder with matching grants. “No way is this going to work if we squeeze the fishermen, that is so totally not our goal,” Ms. Anderson said. The fishermen and processors have already donated a lot to the program, which is why the original grant money has lasted as long as it has, she said.
Of the 14 clients that visited the service center between 4 and 6 PM on Monday, 11 accepted the fish and three declined, according to the fishermen’s tally. Mr. Feeney said he enjoyed seeing the looks of surprise on clients’ faces when offered local fish. “That’s been my favorite part,” he said. “It felt good to give back.”
As closing time approached, service center volunteer Linda S. Dalton of Falmouth came by to wipe down the pantry counters. “I think you made a lot of friends today,” she said to the fishermen.