Food Voices: The Interviews
Padi Anderson, Fisherman
Rye Harbor, New Hampshire
Padi Anderson and her husband, Mike, own the fishing vessel Rimrack. They fish for groundfish, shrimp, squid and tuna out of Rye Harbor, New Hampshire.
I originally got into fishing 40 years ago from when I started a fish and lobster market in Rye and then met Mike, my husband. I was drawn to the fishing business in this area because I had lived all over the world and I had roots here and I wanted real roots. I was drawn into the independence piece of fishing. I got married and the priority was to raise a family. In the last 5 to 8 years, with the need to have support - emotionally, regulatory, administratively and operationally, it was a necessity to get drawn in again. Administratively, all the reporting, the inshore necessities as the fishing has changed. The relationship with government agencies and doing day-to-day business has been cumbersome. Understanding the fish prices, regulations, being compliant and the reporting is a total separate job. For one person to do it in the fishing business, you just can't do it anymore. We are mostly a day boat. We go out and work a minimal 12 hours a day and anywhere up to 18, and sometimes overnights. There are things that have to get done that can't get done on the boat. And can't get done if you want to sleep and go out fishing again.
Mike catches primarily groundfish, but the last few years, we directed our efforts in other areas. We realized the importance of diversity and being draggers, we had the option of going shrimping. So, we went shrimping, we bought a permit to go squiding, we tried herring fishing and tuna fishing. The local markets initiatives came from my part, because I realized that it is good to have other options. I saw some industry and economic shifts coming on and my idea was to assess and re-evaluate the old way of doing business and see if we could find new ways. My thought and my values were that fish is food. The timing was significant because there is the food shift going on in the country and the value of local. I put the two together that fish is food and local. It was sensible and reasonable to pursue that option, so I started doing work along those lines. Communities were re-thinking what they were eating and where their food was coming from and it was an easy jump for me to connect with farmers, because fishermen are harvesters. People forget sometimes that fishermen catch fish for food.
There are a tremendous amount of challenges. Where to begin? The first place to begin is that disconnect between fish being food. Consumers have lost it. The public has lost that connection. The government has lost that connection. The fishermen have lost that connection. Fishermen go into the industry because it is a way of life. It is cultural. It is an experience. That has changed. The regulatory changes have been a big challenge. We are not able to take fish off a boat and sell it to someone. It is illegal. But we could easily twenty years ago. We gave fish away to our neighbors, to friends, to tourists or we would sell it and there was that connection and interaction with education, knowledge, conversation. It was a joy. It was a gift. It was that sharing with people who valued and appreciated what we did and the fishermen loved that connection and now due to regulatory compliances that has become a real change. In New Hampshire the infrastructure was not supportive of connecting our fish locally. Here, our only choice of moving fish was through cooperatives and trucking. So, there wasn't a lot of demand or interest or value to the fish off our boat in a local restaurant. There was a mind-set going on. Big is better, efficiency, and we all kind of fell into that mode of thinking. That disconnect with fish is food, infrastructure, and regulatory compliances were pretty big challenges.
People are reacting wonderfully. It is surprising. I thought it was going to be like carrying the cross and really trying to sell and pitch, but an amazing thing happened. It was like coming home again and getting welcomed by a cousin you hadn't seen in a long time. Farmers understood right away and actually consumers that haven't been educated with misinformation easily realize the value. Like farmers, our catch is seasonal. There are a lot of people out there that realize the value of fish off the boat. The freshness, the taste, the nutritional value. They realize the benefits the community gets. I see it as a benefit to the fishermen as a way to maximize the returns. I see it as a way to connect with your local community because that is where we live. I see it in terms of sustainability. In our community, the fishermen are catching on to this.
How and where do consumers have access to the freshest, local fish? In our community, basically, the only way consumers have access is through a Community Supported Fishery or farmers' markets. More people in our community are interested in CSFs. The demand is overwhelming. There is no way we can meet the demand. So, the next question is, would fishermen be interested? Sure they would be interested if someone else did it. They can't work an 18 hour day, take their product off the boat, comply with all the regulations and its challenges, process it, distribute it, market it and sell it. The CSF educates, it offers access. But, there's some limitations. You can only get that CSF on a certain day, certain time, certain product. We need to look at other models. Direct off the boat has potential, but we can't easily sell directly off the boat. It is illegal for any groundfisherman to sell any fish off the boat without a federal license dealer. You have to be federally licensed. You then have to process the fish. You have to find a way to connect directly with the consumers. That brings in the infrastructure, the distribution and that is a lot to overcome. In New Hampshire, about 99% of our fish goes out of state. Gloucester, Boston. And from there it goes wherever. Some of it must find its way back here. But it left the state and went through two or three other hands and it comes back older and more expensive. We are doing work with fish to school. I want to do more work with hospitals, with other business, school cafeterias, universities, storefronts, retail. It can only be measured by how it benefits the resource and the fishermen. It makes sense for fishermen to get a fair, just price. It supports their efforts of sustainability, benefits the community and they don’t have to put as much effort in. If they get a fairer price for their efforts, they can fish less, which, in turn supports the ecological values.
About a year or so ago, I thought it might be a good thing to step it up a notch and create an identity, create a brand like everyone else is doing. I got one prepared and a logo. I decided it might be something that has potential down the road. And, I am absolutely using it now. Last winter, I started the effort of how to get our fish directly to consumers. I did it for the business and I also did it to see if this is viable. If it was successful meant it would be successful for all our community fishermen. I wanted that model tested. As it turned out, our success was demonstrated on the people who showed up to buy shrimp off the boat. It was overwhelming. I was shocked. One of the reasons I co-founded the Rye Farmers Market was to incorporate fish directly off the boat. My friend, Carolyn, generously offered for me to come in with my shrimp under her permits and those hoops that were needed. I brought my shrimp directly into the winters farmers market to see how they would go and see what the response was going to be and again it was overwhelming. It really gave a lot of hope and inspiration to me to keep following through on this work. The response was, ‘shrimp off the boat, unbelievable!’ ‘I didn't even know we had shrimp around here.’ ‘This is awesome. We want to support fishermen.’ Between the response from selling fish off the boat and the response at the farmer’s market, I said this is worth it. This is worth taking it the next step and talk to other organizations in my community that can help support that. In New Hampshire we don’t have a lot of resources or funding. So, we have to get a lot of work done in our communities by partnership. It really was a huge part in making it happen. The work I do is not about my business, the work I am doing and the efforts and my passion is really about making things work for our fishermen and our community.