By Jason Holland, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from London
Published on 04 April, 2013
The first trial of a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) in the United Kingdom is expected to get underway on 10 April. Called “Catchbox,” the initiative is using a 12-week pilot in the south coast city of Brighton, utilizing the local under-10 meter fleet’s catch to ascertain whether nationwide roll-out is feasible.
The not-for-profit cooperative has been set up by U.S.-based marine NGO SeaWeb with U.K. government funding, and there are high hopes that this variation on the CSF initiative that has boosted the fortunes of several struggling small boat fisheries in the U.S. could do a similar job for beleaguered U.K. inshore fishermen.
The service has a flat rate of GBP 6 (EUR 7.11/USD 9.12) per kg of round fish (filleting is extra) and there is a GBP 10 (EUR 11.85/USD 15.19) membership fee. As in the U.S., fees are paid upfront and the members have no say in what fish they receive each week — it will depend on what the fishermen have been catching, so some weeks the catch will be worth more than GBP 6, some weeks less.
Crucially, Catchbox guarantees the fishermen GBP 5 (EUR 5.93/USD 7.60) of that GBP 6. They also know, ahead of going to sea, that there’s an outlet for their catch.
Where it differs from U.S. CSRs is that a non-profit third-party will initially act as the go-between fishermen and consumer. But it’s hoped that as the U.K. fishermen gain confidence in the project that they will become consumer-facing, said Catchbox coordinator Jack Clarke.
“Catchbox is a new way of getting your hands on fish – great local fish from great local fishermen. It’s also a way of bringing fishermen and the community closer together,” said Clarke at a launch party in Brighton. “Why give your money to Tesco when these guys are catching fish down here?
“It’s a bit like buying organic food — you are not going to change the food system overnight but you can know that the money you are paying for your food is going to someone who cares.”
Brighton’s Catchbox trial will be capped at 150 members but Clarke believes that it doesn’t need as many as that to make it work.
“The fixed costs are minimal; they are covered by the joining fee. The more members we have, the greater our purchasing power. It’s a case of the more the better,” said Clarke, who adds that “hopefully” Brighton will be the first of many Catchboxes around the country.
He said he will use all the things that he learns and all the feedback that he gets from the Brighton trial “to write a toolkit so that the model can be taken to any town in the country.”
The scheme has already received the support of campaigning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who said it fits in with a lot of things that he believes in, including communities working together, local responsible supply chains and sustainable fishing.
“If you opt for a Catchbox, what can you expect? Something a little bit different, perhaps; fish you might not have seen before — some which in other places might have been thrown away and wasted. The one thing I can promise you is they will be delicious, tasty and fresh,” said Fearnley-Whittingstall.
“It cuts out the middle man and puts you, the fish eater, directly in touch with the fisherman in your local harbor.
“It’s a great opportunity for fish lovers to change the way that they buy fish and support our fishing communities toward a more sustainable future,” he said.
Also keen to see how the scheme progresses is writer, explorer and TV presenter Monty Halls, who first floated the idea of introducing U.S.-style CFSs in his six-part BBC TV series, “The Fisherman’s Apprentice with Monty Halls,” which aired on U.K. screens in February last year.
“I think one of the biggest things I learnt while filming the Fishermen’s Apprentice is how complex the issues are facing the fishing fleets, particularly the under-10 meter boats. I also learned there are certain things that definitely work and one of those is CSFs,” said Halls, who visited the United States, specifically Gloucester, Mass., and Port Clyde, Maine, to learn about CSFs, which were first set up in Port Clyde in 2009 and are now in existence in dozens of U.S. towns and cities.
“It’s so important to rebuild that link between local people and their fishing fleets; our local fleets are something we should be very proud of and they need all the support they can get,” he said.