The Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust has received a $250,000 grant to expand its community seafood program, allowing it to buy, process and donate a surplus of black sea bass and scup for chowder donations throughout the Island.
The grant was awarded by Catch Together, a nonprofit organization that invests capital in support of fishermen, fishing communities and ocean conservation throughout the country, according to a press release from the preservation trust.
Since the pandemic began in mid-March, demand from high-end restaurants and wholesalers for seafood has plummeted, driving down prices for local fishermen and leading to large surpluses of once-invaluable catch, like scallops, lobster and oysters.
In response, the fishermen’s preservation trust — an Island nonprofit dedicated to supporting and preserving the Island’s independent fishermen — came up with a creative solution, starting its community seafood program in April of this year.
The program began with 200 pounds of sea scallop donations this spring, and has since donated nearly 2,000 pounds over the course of the past six months to six different food organizations on the Island, including the Island Food Pantry, Good Shepherd Parish, the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury and the Emergency Food Program.
The new grant now allows the trust to expand those donations to excess sea bass and scup catch, according to the press release. The state recently announced expanded quotas and extended seasons for both fish, despite the fact that only 38 per cent of the quota had been harvested as of August.
The trust will buy the surplus fish above market value, and then process it into chowder that can be donated to the food equity groups.
“Decreased restaurant demand for seafood has driven down prices for many fish species, with this trend especially apparent in the black sea bass market. Martha’s Vineyard black sea bass is usually sold to high-end restaurants in Boston and New York, but the lower demand and prices have stopped many fishermen from setting their gear,” the release states. “To assist local fishing businesses during this crisis and with a surplus of catchable black sea bass and scup available, this project aims to pay fishermen $0.25/lb above market prices, to entice them to participate in the sustainable harvest of healthy black sea bass and scup stocks and help make sure they weather the Covid-19 crisis.”
The fish will then be filleted, frozen, and further processed into chowder, with the goal of donating it to local food organizations on the Island. The trust aims to buy 20,000 pounds of black sea bass and 2,500 pounds of scup to be made into 32,000 containers of fish chowder, according to the release.
The grant will also provide subsidized fuel cards to fishermen who do not catch scallops, black sea bass or scup. The program includes wholesale partners Red’s Best and Ocean C Star.
“It is exciting to see how the success from our pilot program with sea scallops has enabled us to expand to include black sea bass and scup — species that are abundant and caught in sustainable ways by our island fishermen,” trust executive director Shelley Edmundson said in the release.