You’re from New England and it’s apple season. Which would you rather buy: apples from your local, family run orchard or apples from a big supermarket? For many New Englanders, the answer is easy. After all, what tastes better than an apple pie made with local apples (that you may have picked)? Nothing. It’s not just that the apples are crisper, sweeter, juicier, and more fresh than ones from a supermarket. You feel better about eating them when you know where – down to the branch – they came from, when you can ask farmers exactly what went into producing them, and when you know that you supported a local business full of local people who love their jobs.
Now answer this: Do ask yourself a similar question when buying seafood?
There are plenty of reasons to eat local produce. Apples aren’t the only thing that tastes better after traveling 10 miles from the farm to your plate than they do after traveling the thousands of miles on boats, planes and trucks. Local foods are seasonal, which promotes variety, often have a low environmental foot print, promote food safety through transparent growing practices, and support local economies and communities. Unfortunately, recognition of these benefits often stops at the coast.
Seafood in America travels an average distance of 5,476 miles. And even though we catch high-quality seafood, 91% percent of the fish we eat is imported. So why eat local fish in addition to local apples? The reasons are similar. Distance traveled from dock to dish may be the most quantifiable. Over the past five years, Community Supported Fisheries (CSF), organizations modeled after Community Supported Agriculture, have been providing fish that travels an average of only 40.14 miles. Not only fishing organizations consume less fuel in fishing process and delivery to the end consumer, fish that travels 40 miles is generally fresher than fish that travels around the world, only to land in a display case at a chain supermarket.
Buying locally also promotes catch variety, which benefits ecosystems and fishermen. Direct marketing inititiatives, like CSFs introduce consumers to an array regionally abundant species. Buying pollock or hake, both white, flaky groundfish that taste similar to cod takes pressure of a depleted, overfished stock. And with increased catch variety, fishermen make money from catches that may have otherwise gone to waste. They can fish (and make money) during more of the year if the market allows them to vary their target species by season.
Another reason to buy locally: traceability. By developing relationships within your personal seafood supply chain, you can be certain of where your fish came from. How was the fish caught? When was it caught? Are the fishermen paid fairly? These questions should be at the forefront of every seafood buyers mind. Unfortunately, they are questions that can’t always be answered when buying fillets from thousands of miles away. And now, with seafood fraud and mislabeling rampant in the seafood industry, it’s hard to know if your salmon was actually wild-caught or if your red snapper is actually catfish. Buying locally means you know more about your fish and your fishermen. You can make informed decisions about the seafood you buy. It means that consumers can trust that the products they buy are exactly what they pay for.