Fish & Wildlife | Sustainability | Ecotrope

Knowing Your Farmer – And Your Fisherman

Ecotrope | Dec. 28, 2012 6:02 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:27 p.m.

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Aaron Longton is one of three fishermen in Port Orford who teamed up to form a community supported fishery based on sustainable fishing practices and direct marketing to conscientious seafood consumers. Here's he's holding one of his many seafood offerings: A vermillion rockfish.

Aaron Longton is one of three fishermen in Port Orford who teamed up to form a community supported fishery based on sustainable fishing practices and direct marketing to conscientious seafood consumers. Here's he's holding one of his many seafood offerings: A vermillion rockfish.

The idea of knowing your farmer and supporting sustainable agriculture through a CSA is pretty well established. But a CSF? That’s still pretty new.

Fishermen in Port Orford are testing out a community supported fishery as an economically and environmentally sustainable business model. They’re next up in a series of stories about innovative environmental ideas.

Their CSF, Port Orford Sustainable Seafoods, invites customers to sign up for regular deliveries of sustainably caught fish. Just like a CSA, but for seafood. Through direct marketing, the model delivers more of the profits from seafood sales directly to fishermen. So, ideally, they can make a living catching fewer fish.

The idea could undermine the incentive to overfish. Many fishermen want to catch more fish because they’re selling to processors that pay low prices per pound.

“If we’re trying to prevent overfishing of the ocean, in general that means catching less fish,” said Stephanie Webb, who distributes Port Orford Sustainable Seafoods products. “But if the fishermen are forced to catch less or being conscious enough to understand the rationale behind catching less fish, that means they need to get a better price for their volume of fish.”

Port Orford fishermen are testing out a community supported fishery as a way to add value to their catch and increase their income without having to catch more fish.

Port Orford fishermen are testing out a community supported fishery as a way to add value to their catch and increase their income without having to catch more fish.

The fishing boats in Port Orford are small by necessity. The dock, now somewhat famous for its shallow depth, is designed for smaller boats that can be hoisted into the water by a lift.

Small boats are limited to shorter fishing trips because they don’t hold as much fuel, and fishermen say the physical limitation of the Port Orford fleet makes sustainable fishing even more important to preserve the catch within their fishing range.

But environmental sustainability has to be matched with economic sustainability to be viable.

With that in mind, three fishermen, Aaron Longton, Darrel Cobb and Chris Aiello, started Port Orford Sustainable Seafood so they could  buy their own fish, send it to a micro-processor in nearby Gold Beach and deliver it directly to their customers on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. The fish is frozen within 24 hours of being caught, so it has a longer shelf life for customers.

“It’s a new frontier,” said Longton. “This is one of the things we feel is an opportunity for our community to add value to the resource and build a connection between the fish, fishermen and consumers.”

Port Orford is predisposed to small-scale, sustainable fishing by the design of its dock, which only allows smaller boats to launch after being lowered into the water by a lift on a crane.

Port Orford is predisposed to small-scale, sustainable fishing by the design of its dock, which only allows smaller boats to launch after being lowered into the water by a lift on a crane.

The Port Orford Sustainable Seafood business has support from the staff of a local nonprofit called the Port Orford Ocean Resources Team, which works to promote selective fisheries and marine biodiversity in Port Orford, a small coastal town where a lot of jobs are connected to fishing.

“It’s not just about environmental sustainability. It’s about social and economic sustainability too,” said Webb, who also works for the Ocean Resources Team. “It’s about our community and the resources our community depends on.”

The CSF is partnering with CSAs to reach conscientious consumers who are willing to pay more for sustainable seafood that can be traced back to the source. That’s how Kim Flannagan of Bandon found out about the program. She’s a member of the Valley Flora CSA in Langlois.

“I belong to a lot of different CSAs,” said Flannagan. “I have one for my vegetables. I buy local honey. I get raw milk over here and lamb over there. I wanted really fresh fish, and I wanted it on a regular basis. … There’s an added benefit to knowing the money I’m spending is supporting local people so they can live here.”

“It’s not so much about knowing the individual fisherman. It’s more about knowing what they do and that there’s a mission to be sustainable.”                                       — Sylvia Ernst

Another customer, Sylvia Ernst of Langlois, said it costs more to sign up for the local seafood deliveries than to buy the fish at the supermarket, and she ends up eating less fish than she otherwise would. But she still thinks it’s money well spent.

“I’d rather have sustainably caught fish and less of it than take the last fish,” said Ernst. “It’s not so much about knowing the individual fisherman, it’s more about knowing what they do and that there’s a mission to be sustainable. That makes a big difference.”

The CSF has grown from three fishermen in 2009 to 15 fishermen, and it’s now adding a coordinator as well as its own processor – the first to operate in Port Orford in more than 30 years.

It has drop sites in Curry and Coos counties right now, but it’s adding a site at the Ecotrust Building in Portland through a partnership with Sauvie Island Organics. In 2014, drop sites will be added in Jackson and Josephine counties.

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