TOPICS > Economy

New England Fisheries Build New Business Model

August 2, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Commercial fishing, one of northern New England's iconic industries, is threatened. There are fewer boats on the water, more regulations and declining markets. How are the men and women who catch fish reacting to the challenges? New Hampshire Public TV reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: For those stations not taking a pledge break, the NewsHour continues now with a story from a new project we call NewsHour Connect. That’s where we showcase the best of public broadcasting from around the country.

Tonight, from a collaboration of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont PBS stations, a report on a community-based to help the local fishing industry survive.

The reporter is Phil Vaughn.

PHIL VAUGHN: At Hampton Harbor Marina, not far from the open Atlantic, sits the Ellen Diane. Her captain is David Goethel.

DAVID GOETHEL, captain, Ellen Diane: I started fishing in 1967 running — working as crew on a party boat in Seabrook, Eastman’s.

PHIL VAUGHN: For nearly 30 years, the Ellen Diane has carried Goethel and his crew to sea. They fish for a living.

DAVID GOETHEL: It’s never the same two days in a row. Fish got tails, and they know how to use them. And despite all the electronics in this wheelhouse, that stuff doesn’t find anything. It is still the guy who drives the boat that actually finds the fish. So, I like the challenge. I like the mental challenge.

PHIL VAUGHN: And that’s a good thing. New England’s fishing industry is facing a boatload of challenges. The cost of getting to the fish is going up. The market is shrinking. And new regulations reduce the size of the catch.

What has that done for livelihoods?

DAVID GOETHEL: Well, in New Hampshire, it has put about 50 percent of the boats out of business. And the other 50 percent to the left are facing a very uncertain future.

PHIL VAUGHN: But the men and women who make a living on the water know how to survive. Ten years ago, in New Hampshire, they created Yankee Fisherman’s Co-op.

BOB CAMPBELL, manager, Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative: Any product that gets sold through here that makes money puts money in their pocket.

PHIL VAUGHN: Bob Campbell manages the co-op. Members bring their catch to him, where it is documented. A portion goes to restaurants and stores, which eliminates the middleman, the distributor, who normally takes a percentage of the profits.

This year, Yankee Co-op and its 62 members are trying something new for New Hampshire, a community-supported fisheries, known as CSF.

BOB CAMPBELL: This was our first year to do a community supported fisheries for our native shrimp. The native shrimp market over the past few years has been very limited. We have been trying to work out a way where we could get direct to consumer.

DAVID GOETHEL: The co-op produces small quantities of shrimp for people who agree to buy a certain amount over a period of time in increments of five or 10 pounds.

PHIL VAUGHN: New Hampshire fishermen switch to the CSF direct marketing model to retain more profit from an increasingly difficult livelihood.

KEN LAVALLEY, University of New Hampshire: People in North Carolina in the fishing industry began looking at this kind of mode of selling, which is very innovative for the fishing industry. And then this group in Maine said, hey, you know, this could work. We might be able to do it here.

PHIL VAUGHN: Ken LaValley is a commercial fisheries specialist at the University of New Hampshire. He says there are real economic benefits with community supported fisheries.

KEN LAVALLEY: For the shrimp industry and for the Yankee Fisherman’s Co-op, this year, fishermen may have been getting about 50 cents a pound in its first year, but they sold probably 10,000 pounds of shrimp that they wouldn’t have otherwise sold. And they sold it at $1.60 a pound, instead of 51 cents a pound.

PHIL VAUGHN: And, LaValley says, there is another benefit, one that fishermen are now getting used to.

KEN LAVALLEY: Yes, it’s a recession. It’s important that fishermen are now finding innovative ways to make more money to maintain themselves in this livelihood. Can you imagine New England without a fishing community? I can’t. So, it’s great that fishermen are now thinking this way. But there is a social aspect, too.

BOB CAMPBELL: It is developing a relationship between — between local consumers and fishermen.

MICHAEL MEAGHE, New Hampshire: Here, you know, they caught it today. They just took out of the water. It is as fresh as you can get.

PHIL VAUGHN: And you get to meet the fishermen, right?

MICHAEL MEAGHE: Yes.

PHIL VAUGHN: You like the model? Does it work?

DAVID GOETHEL: Yes, I like the model. I wish we could get more people involved. So, we need about 10 times the interest in the CSF that we have right now.

GWEN IFILL: You can see all of the story on community fishing on our Web site, NewsHour.PBS.org.