Most would agree that the sea inspires reverie. But what about seafood? Let us propose a daydream: Accompanied by the whir of a straining winch and the cries of hovering gulls, bursting nets hauled from the deep break the surface at dawn. Spilled onto a gently pitching deck, the catch’s wriggling mass is sorted and iced as the trawler’s bow cuts across the windless brine toward a sun-drenched pier, where you, our daydreamer, wait, tongs in hand, beside a smoking grill cradling glowing coals, to purchase a fillet from the guy who caught it, and cook it on the spot.
But wait, what’s this nightmarish twist!? A truck roars in, skidding to a halt between you and the object of your desire, cloaking you in a cloud of dust, then speeds away, disappearing into the distance as the air clears, revealing only an abandoned boat with a cold, wet, empty hold…Nooooooooo!
Alas, such is the labrynthine reality of the seafood supply chain. That fillet will travel far from the boat, to the Fulton Fish Market, where it’ll be bought and sold, again and again, before ending up with a distributor who will truck it back to your neighborhood to sell it to a supermarket or fish monger, who will finally sell it to you, days or weeks after being caught.
While this may make sense from the lofty perspective of global market efficiency, it most certainly does not for those living adjacent to thriving local fisheries who just want to buy fish directly from a fisherman. Because when it comes to fish, freshness is undisputedly the key to quality – the difference in quality between a fillet from a fish caught hours ago and one caught days or weeks ago is profound. And so, it was only a matter of time before a few enterprising locals decided to short-circuit the distribution maze to bring the fish straight from the boat, to the people.
Mermaid’s Garden, a nascent project by Park Slope couple Bianca Picillo and Mark Usewicz to adapt the CSA model to seafood, is live. Mermaid’s Garden, Brooklyn’s first season-long CSF (Community Supported Fishery), is working with Long Island and New England fishermen to bring their catch directly to pickup points in Park Slope, Red Hook, and the Clinton Hill/Bed Stuy borderlands each week for six weeks beginning in mid-June. Half shares and full shares are available, and optional shellfish and whole fish add-ons will be made available during the season.
Members will see a variety of Long Island and New England catch in their shares, including black bass, bluefish, haddock, hake, monkfish, pollock, porgy, skate, striped bass, summer flounder, swordfish, tilefish, tuna (yellowfin and bigeye), wreckfish and more. For more information or to sign up, see the Mermaid’s Garden website. For the full story behind the project, see our interview with founder Bianca Picillo here. CSF deliveries begin on June 14th.
Iliamna Fish Company fills a different sort of niche for local fish lovers – wild Alaskan sockeye. Because, really, who eats that nasty farmed salmon anymore? Greenpoint-based founder Christopher Nicolson has been fishing wild sockeye salmon in the waters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, each summer for his whole life. Members of his Iliamna Fish Company’s once-annual CSA pickup their twelve-pound share of hand-picked, flash-frozen sockeye fillets in September each year, from the Nicolsons themselves, at The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg. Registration for the 2012 season closes on June 8th. Want to know more about life on Bristol Bay? You can find our interview with Christopher here.
Your only other option for purchasing fish directly from local fishermen? The Greenmarkets: Blue Moon Fish brings their catch to market each Saturday at Borough Hall; American Seafood is at the Borough Hall and Bay Ridge markets on Saturdays, and the Windsor Terrace market on Wednesdays; Pura Vida Fisheries is at the Fort Greene and Greenpoint/McCarren Park Greenmarkets each Saturday; and Seatuck Fish is at the Carroll Gardens and Cortelyou Road markets on Sundays. Each features fish caught on their own boats in the waters off Long Island. For a deeper look into the life of a local fishermen, here’s our interview with Blue Moon Fish’s Alex Villani.