The fishing industry has changed beyond recognition in recent decades. While the extent of the damage to global fish stocks remains a matter of much debate, it's fair to say that the pressure is on to learn how best to manage fish stocks so they remain sustainable into the future. Part of that debate has to be about which species fish we can safely and sustainably eat, but we also need to discuss who catches them, how they are caught, and how we ensure that those doing the work are rewarded fairly for their labor, and for their stewardship of the oceans. 

And that's where Community Supported Fisheries may come in. 

A globalized fishing industry

North Carolina's coast has a long tradition of small-scale fishing, for example. But a globalized economy, pressure from coastal tourism development, rising fuel costs and competition from industrial-scale fishing operations have all meant that many family owned fishing operations have struggled or had to close down.

All is not lost, however, and a number of fishing operations are experimenting with new and innovative ways to get their fish to market and still make a profit. Similar to the subscription-based Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs which have helped sustain and revive many family farms across America, Core Sound Seafood is a Community Supported Fishery (CSF). Consumers support the effort, and provide guaranteed income to the fishing operations, by agreeing to "buy shares" for a weekly dose of fresh, local seafood delivered direct from the coast. 

Given the seasonality of seafood, Core Sound is offering the following species for the fall season: flounder, drum, sheepshead, bluefish, jumping mullet, shrimp, crabmeat, clams, oysters and possibly some offshore fish species that may include amberjack, mahi mahi and wahoo. All seafood is delivered fresh, not frozen, and is guaranteed to be a maximum of 48 hours out of the water. 

What does 'local' really mean?

There are, of course, challenges to maintaining a truly local supply chain. Because of those challenges, Core Sound does purchase seafood from neighboring states when necessary to maintain supply — but it continues its support of eastern Carolina fishing families as much as possible as it does so: 

We occasionally purchase from regional, small-scale fishermen in Georgia, South Carolina or Virginia to provide species that may not be available in North Carolina state waters due to weather and environmental conditions as well as availability. When this happens, first priority is given to Down East fishers who have traveled to fish in these waters. We strive to be as transparent as possible and will always note in our weekly e-newsletter when items are coming from out of state waters.
This does, of course, beg the question — how far is too far before the fish is no longer considered local? But for most consumers, "local" in seafood terms is a decidedly different concept than "local" in terms of land based agriculture; perhaps "regional" is a better definition. (Neither Carteret County, where Core Sound Seafood is based, nor Georgia or Virginia can really be considered local to the land-locked Triangle region of North Carolina.) Given that our local Whole Foods fish counter boasts fish from Scotland, Alaska, and the Pacific, it's fair to say that Core Sound Seafood is a more direct link to the sea than is being offered in mainstream supermarkets. 

Not just what you fish, but how

With interest in sustainable fisheries on the rise, and awareness growing of the destruction that overfishing has wrought on global fish stocks, initiatives like Core Sound Seafood represent a slightly different take on seafood sustainability.

Moving beyond a "check box" list of which species should and shouldn't be caught, CSF's promote the notion that the nature of the fishing operations themselves are crucial to how well we preserve our marine heritage, and the communities that rely on it, into the future:

We believe the bottom line is that small-scale fishermen are a tremendous resource in our state’s diverse agricultural offerings, and including them as producers in our regional food shed is vital. We emphasize small-scale as we believe that small-scale fisheries are the most sustainable in that they protect and support marine eco-systems, livelihoods and the larger health of communities. 
Core Sound Seafood is by no means the only Community Supported Fishery out there. Here are some other schemes from around North America, and for a fuller list, check out the North Atlantic Marine Alliance's directory of Community Supporter Fisheries

North Carolina

Alongside Core Sound Seafood, North Carolina seafood lovers can enjoy fresh fish from Walking Fish, a CSF scheme set up by Duke University students to provide sustainably sourced seafood to consumers in Raleigh and Durham.

British Colombia

CSFs are popular north of the border too. Created by an independent fisherman who was struggling to stay (ahem) afloat, Skipper Otto's Wild BC Salmon offers consumers line-caught salmon when it's in-season, with membership starting at $250. Rather than offering a fixed subscription of, say, 2 pounds of fish a week, Skipper Otto's operates on a "buy down" principle whereby members shop for what they want, when they want (assuming it is available), and their account is debited accordingly. 


Billed as the West Coast's first CSF scheme, and created as one part of a fishery reform project involving The Nature Conservancy and Central Coast Salmon Enhancement, SLO Fresh Catch provides fresh fish from Morro Bay and Port San Luis to nearly 100 customers. Species include rockfish, lingcod, seabass, blackcod, sole, shark, albacore and opah.


Combining the benefits of land and sea, Maple Ridge Farm and Fishery offers the best of both a CSA and CSF program, with products including fresh maple syrup, local honey, fresh cut flowers, and organic heirloom vegetables alongside the seafood offerings of lobster and sea scallops. 

This post is adapted from an article that originally appeared on the website of the NC Sustainability Center and is republished with permission here.

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Can Community Supported Fishing help independent fisheries survive?
It's not easy making a living off the sea, but a community commitment can make all the difference — just like it has for family farmers.