In opening a processing plant, the Midcoast Fishermen’s Co-op has added another element as it works to create a new model of groundfishing.
On March 16, the co-op received final approval from the Maine Department of Agriculture to open a small processing plant for shrimp and fish.
Located off Marshall Point Road, the plant will begin producing picked shrimp on March 19. Port Clyde Fresh Catch picked shrimp will be sold to Community Supported Fishery groups, restaurants, and soon will be soon available a retail outlets, according to Laura Kramar, the co-op’s marketing cooperative coordinator.
“There is a lot more money in the other end, then in the catching end,” said Glen Libby, president of the Midcoast Fishermen’s Co-op (MFC) as he toured the processing plant before it opened.
The plant will employ about 12 part-time workers. The MFC has been working for weeks to get it ready. The bright, clean space includes a cooking tank, a shrimp cooker, a clean room for picking with a picking table and a walk-in cooler. The co-op also installed a ultra-violet system to purify the water to meet federal regulations.
Co-op members and their families volunteered the labor that went into creating the processing plant. “It’s great,” said Libby. “We’ve never had anything like this before.
For the co-op, having the ability to process and sell its own product is crucial. “The key is diversity,” said Libby. And now fishermen “will get two income streams-one from catching and one from selling. They have never had that before.”
For the MFC, this is part of a process they began years ago. After 20 years of federal regulations, fishing is getting worse, Libby said. “We needed to do something different. And we can do something-we can change the direction here.”
The Midcoast Fishermen’s Association (MFA), the advocacy organization for the co-op, was founded in 2007.
This group advocates for local fishermen to take over the control of the marketing of their own fish and works with other organizations on changes to fishing gear that will reduce fuel consumption, impact to the habitat and reduce the amount of non-marketable fish caught. “This is unique-there are not many fishermen’s groups geared toward conservation,” said Libby.
But by catching less fish, the fishermen need a better price. “No one ever though of marketing,” said Libby. “It attacks the problem from a different angle-how do we get more for what we catch?”
The co-op followed the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model and launched a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) program. The co-op launched Maine’s first CSF in Dec of 2007.
Customers sign up to receive a regular amount of fresh fish or shrimp, which is delivered to a single spot in a community for pick up. The co-op also sells fish and shrimp directly to restaurants.
Using the CSF model, the co-op-and the fishermen-receive more for its product.
“But they are buying more than shrimp,” said Libby, about the customers. “They are supporting their access to local fish. Because if you don’t have your local fishermen, you don’t have local food. Everything all meshes.”
Right now the co-op is delivering whole shrimp to seven different CSFs across the state, from Damariscotta to Orno.
Originally processing was a means to create another market. But with the rise of the local food movement, it now means more.
“It has taken on a whole new meaning,” said Libby “If we can make this work, at least we’ll have a food supply close to home.”