New report finds many local species hard to buy in New England

By

Erich Luening

Published on
May 13, 2019

It’s not hard to find lobster, sea scallops, haddock, or cod at your local fishmonger in New England, but look for more locally sourced fish like scup, dogfish, and skate and your usually out of luck.

Authors of a new study released Monday by the nonprofit group Eating with the Ecosystem describe a stark discrepancy between what’s swimming in local waters and what’s available on local seafood counters.

“Our findings show that there are many local species that are underrepresented in the marketplace and yet many of these species are also quite abundant in our local waters,” program director and study coordinator Kate Masury told SeafoodSource in an email. “Species experiencing this kind of mismatch should be the first priority for a marketing boost as they have the most to gain from an economic benefit perspective and balancing their harvest with their ecological production can help alleviate impacts on marine food webs.” 

The concern for researchers is the imbalance can strain the resilience of New England’s underwater ecosystems and undermine the wellbeing of the people who depend on them, she added. Moving forward, the group hopes to see the New England marketplace do a better job of reflecting the full diversity of what our waters have to offer. 

The project’s 86 participants were from all walks of life and resided in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. For 26 weeks, these everyday investigators ventured to seafood markets, supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and seaside fishing piers in search of 52 New England seafood species. 

Each participant received a weekly list of four randomly chosen local species and searched for them in up to three local markets. Upon encountering one of their species, they took it home and made a meal out of it. 

“At the inception of the project, I had no doubt that I would find, prepare, and marvel at my brilliance with new, exotic, local species of seafood each week,” Sherri Darocha, a participating citizen scientist said. “I never dreamed that most weeks it would be so challenging to find even one fish on my list. After 26 weeks, I have plenty of pent-up fish envy that will only be soothed by finding species that have eluded me, like cunner and red hake and dozens of others. On the other hand, I’ve greatly expanded my fish recipe repertoire for species that are more commonly found in my neck of New England!”

The report called Eat Like a Fish: Diversifying New England’s Seafood Marketplace, Eating with the Ecosystem offers several tips for eaters interested in expanding their local seafood horizons:

  • Seek out local species you haven’t tried before. Many citizen scientists discovered new favorite seafood species by going outside their comfort zone.
  • Don’t shy away from whole fish. Using every part of the fish reduces waste. The more mess you make in the kitchen, the more you will enjoy the meal that follows!
  • If you don’t see a particular local species available on the seafood counter, ask for it. Letting your fishmonger know you would like to buy it will help build demand.
  • Many fishmongers can locate hard-to-find local seafood species if you notify them in advance. Special-ordering these species helps show fishmongers that there is interest in purchasing them, without requiring them to assume any risk.
  • When experimenting with new species, make it a social event. Team up with friends and family members who share your commitment. 

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