CSAs (which stands for community supported agriculture) are great for so many reasons. You know exactly where your produce comes from, you're introduced to new fruits and vegetables that you might not typically use, you're supporting small-scale, sustainable farms and by eating locally and in-season, you're helping the environment. But why should these benefits only apply to vegetables? Now, thanks to a new wave of Community Supported Fisheries, you can count on all of these benefits applying to seafood, too.
Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) are based on the same model as CSAs. Members pay a flat fee and receive a pre-determined amount of seafood each week, month or however frequently the share delivers. They're great, because the seafood industry is one part of the food world that sorely needs more transparency and a stronger commitment to sustainability.
"Fish fraud," or mislabeling seafood, is a rampant problem. Ocean advocacy group Oceana released a study last year revealing that up to one-third of all seafood is mislabeled, which is a serious concern for consumers' wallets and health. For one, seafood sellers and distributors might be selling cheaper seafood for higher prices by inaccurately labeling fish. (Oceana also has a very telling and alarming infographic detailing just how much you could be losing thanks to fish fraud.) Second, mislabeling could also pose health risks for people trying to avoid certain fish -- such as fish with high mercury levels -- but aren't even given the chance to make a fully informed decision. By connecting consumers directly with local fishermen, and eliminating the middleman and the risk of mislabeling, community supported fisheries can help fight fish fraud.
Another important role a CSF can play in the seafood industry is aiming for sustainability and practicing humane fishing. It's no secret that we are overfishing our oceans. Americans are eating more seafood than ever -- according to Oceana, we are eating "50 percent more seafood than [we] did 50 years ago." And consumption is half the problem. Bycatch -- fish and sea mammals that get unintentionally killed or injured due to careless or inhumane fishing practices -- is another horrific piece to the puzzle. By joining a CSF that is committed to low-impact fishing and steering away from overfished species, you are also supporting sustainability in our oceans. Also, like learning what the f*ck to do with those mystery vegetables you get in your CSA (ahem, stinging nettles), you'll get to know new kinds of fish and expand your seafood horizons.
CSF's are popping up all over the country, from Mermaid's Garden in Brooklyn, to the Village Fishmonger's CSF that serves all of New York City, to Massachusetts-based Cape Ann Fresh Catch, to Community Seafood in Santa Barbara.
Joining a CSF is a positive way to push for much-needed reform across the board. By actively supporting local fishermen and fisheries that adhere to transparency and humane fishing practices, you're showing the big industry players where consumers' priorities lie. It sounds cliché, but while joining a CSF might feel like one small ripple in the pool, together with the rest of your CSF-partners, you'll make waves.
Have you used a CSF? Tell us about your experience in the comments.