MANCHESTER – Commercial fisherman Jim Ford keeps all the fish he catches as part of a monitoring program and the ones too small to sell he wanted to donate to food banks but health regulations made that impossible.
“It was too bad. It’s all good fish,” the Barrington resident said.
But then he heard about a new initiative launched by the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance where smaller, though legal-sized haddock is made into chowder and given to food banks across Massachusetts. That didn’t solve the problem of losing fish too small to sell, but he saw it as a big step in the right direction.
“It’s definitely a good program,” he said. “To give fish to food banks and get a guaranteed price.”
He got involved right away, and his enthusiasm has grown now that the program includes his home state of New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Food Bank, a program of Catholic Charities New Hampshire, will receive its first pallets, made at Plenus Group in Lowell, starting in November.
“We are thrilled to participate in the Fishermen’s Alliance program to bring a hearty, nutritious haddock chowder to our neighbors experiencing hunger in New Hampshire while supporting local fishermen. Since the pandemic, approximately one in seven men, women and children are food insecure in New Hampshire with an estimated 21 to 23 percent of children living in food insecure environments,” said Eileen Liponis, New Hampshire Food Bank executive director.
The idea of helping fishermen stay on the water and help people struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic found a lot of support right away. With major philanthropic support from Catch Together and a grant from the MIT Sea Grant program, the first shipment of 20,000, 18-ounce containers of chowder rolled out in September. The chowder has received rave reviews for its taste, and that it has more haddock in it than typical chowders.
“We were fortunate to receive and sample some of the haddock chowder. Not only was it delicious but very hearty and easy to prepare. We are confident that this will become a popular addition to our healthy choices for our partner agencies and neighbors experiencing hunger,” Liponis said.
“The beauty of this initiative is that it helps fishermen help people who need a delicious, nutritious meal,” said Seth Rolbein, Cape Cod Fishermen’s Alliance. “Haddock chowder is a New England classic that most people love, ready to heat and serve. With nothing more than a hot plate or microwave, you can feed a family.”
Ford, whose homeport is Newburyport, has been on about a half-dozen haddock trips on his 50-foot dragger, the Lisa Ann III, since the program began. He has seen a lot of smaller, though legal-sized haddock, fish that don’t fetch a good price because their fillets are small and don’t look good in a case.
“They taste the same, but you can’t convince the public,” he said. “None of the restaurants want them. They want a six- to nine-ounce fillet.”
That makes small haddock perfect for chowder. And the program guarantees fishermen a fair, reliable price, which Ford says is particularly important when other markets, such as restaurant sales, have plummeted.
Ford, who got hooked on fishing in the sixth grade, hopes the program will also build awareness about the small-boat fleet and captains who bring back the freshest catch possible.
“That would be a big benefit, if people know where their fish are coming from,” he said.
He believes the chowder will be a hit not just in New England, but across the country.
“I hope it takes off,” Ford said.