Gulf of Maine Research Institute obtains grant to improve local seafood access

Published on
December 12, 2019

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) – located in Portland, Maine – has obtained a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in order to improve local access to seafood in New England.

The grant totals USD 480,000 (EUR 432,216), which is being matched by GMRI with USD 125,000 (EUR 112,556) in funding and staff time. That money will be invested back into smaller ports in New England in order to improve supply-chain logistics, boosting the quality of the seafood landed there.

GMRI Sustainable Seafood Senior Program Manager Kyle Foley told SeafoodSource that the project is largely focused on improving the cold-chain logistics at multiple ports in the region.

Foley said that through conversations with fishermen and processors in the region, access to ice has been identified as an issue.

“The simple access to ice was not available to everybody in the region,” she said. “The only access to ice they have currently is to go to a convenience store and buy the 10 pound bag you’d have at a barbecue.”

That means that some fishermen are heading out for the day without an adequate supply of ice on board, which in turn leads to a lower quality product, particularly for New England groundfish. Due to this, the products end up struggling to compete with imported products of the same species that come from larger, better-funded overseas fisheries that often have large catcher-processors.

“It’s hard to compete with that, and we know we don’t have the volume for that in this region, so if we’re not looking at catcher-processor capacity coming into this region than the things we’re trying to do will hopefully address quality in different ways,” Foley said.

The most obvious first step is to buy ice making equipment for ports that need it.

“We’re going to be purchasing ice making equipment for a few different ports in New England, so we’ll be buying it for Newburyport Massachusetts, Marshfield Massachusetts, and Chatham Massachusetts,” Foley said. “We’ll also be working locally here in Portland.”

Ice making is just the first step. The second step is to work with local processors to learn what their cold-chain logistics look like from dock to finished product, and determine how things can be done better.

“I think there’s a sharp divide between processors that are really diversified and buy a lot of imported product, and smaller processors that area really still reliant on New England groundfish and haven’t had as much of the funds or capacity to improve,” Foley said. GRMI will determine how the cold-chain could be improved for some processors, and will share knowledge with other small processors to improve the overall efficiency of the cold-chain in the region.

The final step is to bring various players in the industry – fishermen, processors, buyers, distributors, and more – together to talk about what could be improved region-wide.

“What could the industry do in New England, pre-competitively, to really up our game?” Foley said. “That’s work that takes a long time and doesn’t happen overnight, but we’re really excited to start some work on this front.”

Photo courtesy of Arthur Villator/Shutterstock 

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