By John Pappalardo
Last month in this space, I mentioned that the team here at the Fishermen’s Alliance has been thinking hard about ways we can help keep the local fishing fleet on the water, and help others hurt by the economic fallout raining down as we try to beat back a deadly virus. And I promised to get back to you with specifics to accomplish those goals.
Now I’m ready to sum up a major initiative we’re rolling out with a couple of words that might make you laugh, to think that such big ambitions could get expressed in such a seemingly simple idea:
Here’s how we got there:
Haddock is one of the most plentiful fish in our region’s waters, so much so that millions of haddock are not growing as well as they have in the past, likely because of crowding. These smaller fish don’t make for big fillets, so don’t look great or sell well in markets. That means fishermen don’t get good prices for catching them, in fact often do their best to avoid what for generations was one of the great staple seafoods of New England.
But smaller fillets work great in chowder.
Meanwhile, food banks and pantries love offering chowder to their clients. Why? It’s nutritious, delicious, and kids often lap it up. Plus, a chowder is ready to go. Even if you don’t have a real kitchen, maybe nothing more than a hot plate or microwave, all you have to do is heat up the chowder and you’ve got a great meal.
So the plan became this: Offer our fishermen a solid, fair, predictable price for catching small haddock. Find a processor willing to fillet those haddock. Find a chowder maker willing to make a great haddock chowder. Offer that chowder to food banks and pantries.
Of course all this takes money as well as organization. Now I can report that because of the generosity of a major private donor, as well as some smaller grants, we are ready to launch. We have our partners lined up, we’ve run a couple of test batches of chowder to make the recipe great and the system solid. Fishermen interested in participating are starting to gear up to focus on the effort.
If all goes as planned, our first big batch – and by big I mean 20,000 pounds of haddock chowder packed in more than 17,700 18-ounce containers – will be ready to distribute during the second week of August. Already, the region’s food banks, particularly The Greater Boston Food Bank that supplies many smaller outlets, will be taking almost all of that first batch and delivering it to hungry people. Then, if all goes well, we’ll do another 20,000 pounds before the end of August, and keep it rolling right into the fall and winter.
Our goal in this first year is to support fishermen catching around 100,000 pounds of small haddock, which will translate into more than 30,000 pounds of fillets. We’re going to load up the chowder with fish; most commercial chowders have around 15 percent actual fish, ours will have 25 percent. So if we pull this off – WHEN we pull this off – we will be creating more than 120,000 pounds of great food in this first year.
Ahh, you ask, but how can this be sustainable? The funding is coming from philanthropy, that can’t last forever, can it?
That’s why there’s Phase Two.
We’re creating a brand for our haddock chowder. “Small Boats, Big Taste” is the brand name, playing off our long-time motto, “Small Boats, Big Ideas.” We are going to market this great product in settings like supermarkets and fish stores, maybe restaurants too. And like the “Newman’s” brand, we will make it clear that not only is this a great chowder, but when you buy it you also accomplish two great social goals: Keep independent fishermen on the water, and feed the hungry.
Who knows? Maybe our haddock chowder will become the first in a line of “Small Boats, Big Taste” offerings. Maybe we’ll produce other chowders using plentiful fish like hake, or redfish. Maybe an oyster stew or quahog chowder will make sense if the restaurant and retail markets continue to slump and demand for the half-shell isn’t there. Maybe we’ll smoke some fish, who knows?
But first things first.
So that’s our plan. And as we roll out over the next few months, we’ll no doubt ask for what we hope will be some pleasurable help along the way:
Eat our chowder!
(John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance)