Two new NOAA Sea Grant studies will look at how new business models, based on the success of community supported agriculture, could benefit fishing communities in Washington, Oregon, and California.
"I am very excited about these projects because they get to the heart of what coastal seafood lovers want – delicious, fresh, local and sustainably caught seafood on their dinner plates," said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.
"California Sea Grant is pleased to partner with the three other West Coast Sea Grant programs to support a portfolio of social science research with region-wide significance to coastal communities, fishermen and the natural resources upon which they rely," California Sea Grant Director James Eckman said.
The four West Coast Sea Grant programs selected these two projects, totaling $500,000, through an independent peer-review process. NOAA provided funding through its National Sea Grant College Program.
Community supported fisheries are a hot trend in seafood marketing. Fishermen in some areas are finding that they can get better prices for fresh, locally caught fish sold directly to consumers through CSFs. Patterned after community supported agriculture, the CSF business model is the subject of a new California Sea Grant study.
Barbara Walker, a cultural geographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will lead a study of community-supported fisheries and other direct-marketing programs in Washington, as well as North Carolina and South Carolina. The emphasis will be on helping fishermen learn about direct marketing and identify approaches that might be appropriate for the local fisheries and consumer base.
"With the Sea Grant award, we will be able to systematically investigate the upsides and downsides of direct marketing of seafood and tailor the results specifically to West Coast fisheries and fishing communities," Walker said. "There are a lot of successes with community-supported fisheries, and, on the other side, there are programs that are struggling."
Project co-investigator Caroline Pomeroy, a California Sea Grant Advisor, said that the scientists "want to objectively evaluate the actual benefits and costs, and what it takes for such programs to succeed."
"Our goal, ultimately, is to provide fishermen and fishing communities with scientifically sound information they can use to make decisions that give them the best possible chance of success," she said.
Besides direct sales, another avenue for increasing revenue from fishing is to develop higher-value product lines, for example, by delivering fish live, or by smoking, freezing, or otherwise processing product. The second Sea Grant-funded project looks at this approach.
Ana Pitchon, an assistant professor of anthropology at California State University, Dominguez Hills in Los Angeles County, and James Hilger, a fisheries resource economist at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego, will explore what can be done to add value to fish and shellfish landed locally, using four fisheries – Pacific sardine, Dungeness crab, near-shore live finfish, and spot prawn – as case studies.
Findings from the project will be presented at workshops and town hall meetings and developed into a set of recommendations to be shared with coastal communities and managers.
Josh Fisher, vice president of the California Lobster and Trap Fishermen’s Association, called the research "vital to the survival of West Coast fisheries."