Local Food: Where’s the Fish?
Rhode Island’s “buy local” food movement has had some success:
The resurgence of farms and farmers’ markets has brought local, fresh produce to thousands more Rhode Islanders in the past few years….“The miraculous comeback of Rhode Island farming,” said Division of Agriculture Director Ken Ayars, “is due in large part to efforts like the statewide Buy Local campaign, establishment of harvest cooperatives like Rhody Fresh milk, organic and good agricultural practices certification schemes and the annual Rhode Island Agriculture Day.”
Now the Buy Local folks are eyeing Rhody seafood.
Noah Fulmer, director of Farm Fresh Rhode Island, an organization that runs eight farmers’ markets in the state, highlighted the need for more direct-marketing venues for seafood.
“What’s missing at farmers’ markets,” Fulmer said, “is seafood from the Ocean State. People are asking ‘Where’s the finfish? Where can I get fresh seafood?’ We don’t have an answer for them right now. It’s an opportunity that’s waiting to be taken.”
Currently, most of the seafood landed in Rhode Island is sold to distribution companies who ship it around the world. Department of Health regulations make it difficult — and expensive — for fishermen to sell their catch directly to the public.
[E]stablished seafood companies caution that local marketing of Rhode Island seafood challenges the basic laws of economics. Export Rhode Island-caught seafood, they say, is more profitable than selling it locally.
Christopher Joy of SeaFreeze, a fishing and distribution company in North Kingstown, explained, “If it’s too expensive, it’s because others are willing to pay more for it.”
Similarly, Eric Reid of Deep Sea Fish, a Narragansett-based seafood distribution company, said it is more profitable to ship Rhode-Island-caught seafood out of state while bringing in cheap fish from abroad. Rhode Island customers, he said, prefer low prices. “Simply put,” he said, “it’s a math problem.”
Hence, plenty of cheap talapia and not so much cod or haddock. Unless you want to pay for it. Nonetheless, plans are in the works.
In the coming months, fishermen and their allies may try to alter this equation by building demand for local seafood in Rhode Island. Locally landed fluke, sea bass, scup and stripers may soon be available at a farmers’ market near you.
My eyes will be peeled!