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  • Fisherman stands on weathered boat with thousands of red shrimp on deck at his feet

Caught between depleted stocks, collapsing prices, and commercial trawlers, small-scale fishermen join forces to create new niche markets for their sustainably harvested product. Can they succeed?

By Lina Zeldovich
June 28, 2016 | Hakai Magazine

Every Friday afternoon, New Hampshire mom Kate Politano opens her garage door and rolls out a fridge. Starting at about 3 p.m., local residents trudge up her driveway and pick up their weekly allotment of fish—plastic bags of various weights and sizes—from the fridge’s three compartments labeled Quarter Share, Half Share, and Full Share. Some weeks it’s pollock. Other times it’s haddock. And sometimes it’s a lesser-known but plentiful species, like redfish.

Politano is a member of New Hampshire Community Seafood (NHCS), a cooperative of fishermen and consumers who have joined together to support the state’s disappearing small-scale fishing industry and its sustainable harvesting practices. NHCS is modeled after community-supported agriculture. The co-op members prepay a certain amount for their shares, and the fishermen deliver local, sustainably caught fish every week. The NHCS is a community-supported fishery. Politano volunteers her driveway as a pickup point for co-op members who live nearby.

The community-supported fishery (CSF) movement emerged from the industry’s well-known environmental and economic woes. The industry’s demise went like this: modern industrialized fishing turned the sea’s bounty into a commodity, with prices that fluctuated in response to the market rather than in response to the environment. And after decades of market-driven overfishing by large commercial fleets, the stocks of cod and other popular species collapsed; stringent regulations and plummeting prices followed, pushing many small-scale fishermen out of business. Despite the turmoil, the pricing structure (so insanely confusing, it makes US tax codes look easy) remains tied to the market and stacked against the small players. In all of New Hampshire, there are only nine privately owned ground fish boats left, says Andrea Tomlinson, a marine biologist, who manages NHCS. Caught between depleted stocks, collapsing prices, and the big commercial trawlers that can travel farther and fish more—all while trying to keep the fish flowing and their boats sailing—the diehard small-scale fishermen of North America joined forces with scientists and environmentalists to reinvent the seafood trade.

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