Mark and Alana Kujala have been selling fresh, canned and smoked seafood at farmers markets in Beaverton and Astoria for years.
Now, the Warrenton residents are taking their direct marketing a step further. They’re starting a seafood version of community supported agriculture. In November, they will begin delivering individual packages of fresh seafood to the Astoria Co-op every Friday for customers who sign up for weekly deliveries.
It’s another example of an emerging trend toward community supported fisheries.
Mark Kujala said he noticed that a lot of the farms selling produce at farmers markets have their own community supported agriculture programs that deliver fresh produce to customers on a regular basis. One by one, people started suggesting the Kujalas do something similar with their seafood. They’re starting their CSF in Astoria with an eye toward expanding into the Portland area.
“What we’re doing now is responding to what customers have asked for,” said Mark Kujala. “We’re anxious to see what the possibilities are. We’re starting small and hoping for big things.”
CSAs allow customers to buy shares of a farm’s crops directly from the farmer. They usually offer an annual subscription and deliver fresh produce to consumers weekly or monthly.
Buying fish directly from fishermen isn’t unheard of, but on the West Coast, organized community supported fishery programs are still pretty rare.
“It’s kind of crazy that there isn’t one already,” said Kristin Frost Albrecht, an Oregon State University Extension agent and a board member for North Coast Food Web. “It’s part of the slow food thing that we’re all supporting. But just like with CSAs, CSF’s are not for everyone. You have to have the right combination of skills and talents.”
Frost Albrecht said it’s hard for consumers to know which fish is caught locally, when it will be fresh, and where to go to buy fresh, local seafood. On the other side of the equation, fishermen often get a small cut of the profits from seafood sales because there are so many middlemen involved in delivering the product to consumers.
“It’s the same thing with the CSA,” she said. “The fishers get the bulk of the money. It’s kind of a win-win for all for the parties.”
Part of the challenge for fishermen is filleting and packaging the fish so it’s ready for people to cook and eat. The Kujalas can tackle that challenge because they already have a cannery and workers who know how to fillet all kinds of fish.
The Kujala family has owned a cannery on the Skipanon River in Warrenton since 1978. The cannery buys and processes seafood from local boats including two run by Mark’s brother Paul Kujala.
The other challenge is delivering the seafood while keeping it fresh. The Kujala’s plan is to drop seafood in a cooler at the Astoria Co-op for members of the CSF to pick up on a weekly basis. Having subscriptions ahead of time will tell them how much seafood they need to process every week.
“Having a club gives us not only a sustainable revenue stream but also gives us a real number to shoot for and a real volume of fish to process each week,” said Mark Kujala. “That really will be beneficial to us.”
The mix of seafood will change according to what’s in season, he said. Bottomfish such as rockfish and sole can be caught fresh year-round, but in the wintertime there won’t be fresh salmon or tuna. There will, however, be fresh Dungeness crab.
“The heart of crab season is in the wintertime,” he said. “Shrimp starts in April. We figure when there is less fish in season, we’ll always have smoked fish and canned fish available.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is funding a study of how community supported fisheries can work to boost fishermen’s income and preserve fishing communities.
The study’s lead investigator Barbara Walker of the University of California – Santa Barbara said she and others will be looking at the upsides and downsides of direct seafood marketing to see what works best.
“We want to know how direct marketing changes how people fish,” Walker said. “Do fishermen’s incomes go up? How do their workloads change? What are the social and economic implications for them and consumers?”
The idea behind funding the study, according to NOAA, is to determine whether the “locavore” movement can benefit fishermen the same way it has helped individual farmers.
Where do you get your seafood? Would you subscribe to a CSF?