The hardship endured by many during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fact that all members of our society are in the same boat, so to speak. In addition to the challenges of social isolation and fears of falling ill with COVID, some of us suffer from hunger while others from a decline in income. In response, one Maine organization launched a program last fall to ensure that neither sector suffered alone.
The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA) began the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program to provide fishermen with a buyer for their catches and Maine food banks and state residents with healthy, fresh seafood. The program started with an anonymous donation of $160,000 and $200,000 in pandemic relief funds and individual donations.
Maine groundfishermen weren’t exactly thriving before the pandemic hit. The groundfish fleet has seen its revenues decline sharply in recent years. When restaurants and other buyers of Maine seafood closed in the spring, groundfishermen took a major hit. The value of groundfish sank by 73% this year compared to the five-year average. At the same time, Maine residents were facing increased uncertainty about access to food as so many lost their jobs or had their working hours reduced.
MCFA decided to buy fish directly from fishermen in order to provide them with steady revenue. Local processors then cut, packaged, and froze the fish which were donated to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Cooking for Community, local schools, and other community organizations. By the end of 2020, Fishermen Feeding Mainers had bought and donated 150,000 meals worth of fresh protein from the Gulf of Maine, outpacing early goals.
“It’s been extremely impactful, both for the working waterfront and for folks in need,” said MCFA executive director Ben Martens in a January interview in Sunrise Guide. “We have more community organizations reaching out to us every week. And we have a bunch of fishermen who are only fishing because of this program, because we have largely lost the restaurant market.”