Elevating underutilized fish to a healthy staple
Six million pounds of dogfish are caught every year in Chatham, the third largest fishing port in Massachusetts. While dogfish appears in popular seafood dishes such as fish and chips in England, this abundant species is not widely appreciated in the U.S. and is often overlooked by consumers. The fish gets used commonly as bait or processed into food for pets. As a result, fishermen have traditionally sold their catches on the international commodity market – at prices as low as nine cents a pound – providing no or little profit.
To change these market dynamics, several fishermen have formed the Chatham Harvesters Cooperative. With help from the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and others, the group has begun a pilot program with Red’s Best. The local seafood distributor buys dogfish at a fair price and produces fish nuggets and spicy fish strips for tacos or sandwiches. Red’s Best then sells these new products to a number of hospitals and universities, including Harvard University, that appreciate the option to serve traceable, locally caught fish. Demand for these fish products is growing, especially among public school districts.
To expand this partnership, the Cooperative is applying for a USDA Value Added Producers Grant. This would allow more fishermen to join the Cooperative to sell more dogfish to Red’s Best, which could then service more schools and institutions. The fishermen, distributor, processors, institutions, and their students and patients all benefit from this unique partnership, which keeps seafood sales local and enables Massachusetts residents to eat local, healthy fish. The program also helps to create more resilient coastal communities as “it promotes the traditional New England way of life,” says Amy MacKown of NAMA. “Fish that is caught by a local fishing company from the nearby ocean is being eaten in schools.”
Incentivizing dogfish fishing benefits the local ecosystem. Dogfish are abundant predators that can decimate the populations of smaller fish or fish that are spawning. “Putting pressure on the dogfish population takes the pressure off of other species that are not doing so well. It’s a win-win scenario,” says Amy. In the future, the Chatham Harvesters Cooperative hopes to focus on other underutilized fish, including whiting and scup.