Community Seafood

December 13, 2012

by Ellie Lanphier

Modern consumers want and expect sustainable, local seafood. Restaurants need to be able to tell their customers where their food is coming from and how it got to their plate. Fishermen hope for better prices and more realistic expectations in a volatile, unpredictable industry. Recognizing that all of these parties really desired the same dream, Stephanie Mutz, Sarah Rathbone and Kim Selkoe launched the first season of Community Seafood, a community supported fishery (CSF) in Santa Barbara, California which connects residents directly to the local catch.

This past April, RSF made a grant from the Seed Fund to Commercial Fisherman of Santa Barbara, to launch season one of their CSF. Much like a CSA, a CSF share eliminates the intermediaries between the producer and the consumer, ensuring that the subscriber pays a fair price while their money goes directly to the fishermen that caught their dinner.

Mutz, commercial fisherman and co-founder, caught up with us for an update on their first season and beyond:

“We are now in our second season of our CSF.  Our customers are having a lot of fun knowing where and how their seafood is caught, who caught it and how to prepare it.  We are taking the confusion out of seafood by doing the homework for our customers, and they know they are doing their share in preserving the local marine resource while supporting local fishermen.  We really are accomplishing our goal of building community when our customers start talking to each other when they pick up their seafood, and before you know it, they are inviting each other over for dinner!”

Steve Escobar with a trap of spot prawns

Their subscribers benefit from the plentiful waters of the Santa Barbara Channel, and share in the fluctuations inherent to the trade. They buy a share and receive the “catch of the week,” of whatever is fresh and in season. Increased variety for customers equates to healthier ecosystems, allowing time for species recoup.

California-caught seafood is some of the most environmentally friendly available, due to stringent fishing regulations such as setting aside protected areas and seasonal closures. However, currently 90-95% of local seafood landed in Santa Barbara Harbor is exported overseas, leaving local fishermen at the mercy of volatile foreign markets and bound to the unsustainable practice of catching a lot of one kind of fish to sell at low wholesale prices. The frustration is compounded by local consumers who, at the same time, are demanding sustainable healthy seafood right off the boat.

This small group of fisherman and scientists has been able to see the connection between the wants and needs of the community and those of the producers. While they still have adjustments and improvements to address as they make headway into the second season, Santa Barbara fishermen say Community Seafood provides a connection to their community that they wouldn’t have otherwise, and valuable feedback about their work. Some say it has granted a greater sense of purpose in their day-to-day activities. While it’s yet a small portion of their overall business, all parties involved hope to see it grow.

This grant was made possible by the RSF Seed Fund. Every spring, RSF provides small gifts (between $500 and $5,000) to seed new initiatives that offer innovative solutions in the field of social finance, or address issues in one of our three focus areas (Food & Agriculture, Education & the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship). Individual gifts to the RSF Seed Fund can help germinate the next generation of restorative projects. Click here to donate to the RSF Seed Fund today.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

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