A Brunswick-based nonprofit recently surpassed 200,000 seafood meals donated through their program, Fishermen Feeding Mainers.
Launched by the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, the program started in September and finances local fishermen, whose catches are cut and packaged through Maine businesses and distributed to hungry Mainers statewide.
“As COVID started to have ripple effects throughout our economy, we saw a collapse in some of our seafood markets,” said Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Ben Martens.
At the same time, Martens said, there was heightened food insecurity in Maine and an increase in demand at food banks and donation programs, which were having a difficult time sourcing high-quality protein.
Fishermen Feeding Mainers addressed both these issues, and has raised over $500,000, according to Martens.
That translates to roughly 145,000 pounds of local seafood, which has supported over 30 seafood businesses, more than 90 fishermen, and has provided donations to more than 50 nonprofits, charities, community groups, schools, and afterschool services, according to a news release.
The program has been supported by over 400 individuals, foundations, nonprofits, businesses, and the state through the CARES Act.
“This program is a great example of how Mainers come together, solve problems, and support each other in times of need,” said Gov. Janet Mills in the release.
Brian Pearce, who fishes out of Portland, is one of the fishermen that takes part in the program. He has been in the ground-fish industry for about 32 years.
Fishermen Feeding Mainers offers him a set price for his catch, which includes pollack, hake, cod and occasionally monk fish, he said.
“For me, it’s been the best thing that’s happened in the ground fishery for many, many years,” Pearce said. “It offered me and people that were involved a guaranteed price and that’s something we’ve never had.”
In past years, Pearce said he would normally sell his fish at an “auction house,” where prices fluctuate daily depending on supply and demand. In 2020, before working with the project, Pearce said he did not even bother fishing, since the prices were so low due to restaurant closures and other factors stemming from COVID-19.
“It’s been a blessing to have that opportunity,” Pearce added.
Alongside other partners, Good Shepard Food Bank serves a critical distribution role in the project.
According to Good Shepard Food Bank’s Mainers Feeding Mainers Program Manager Nancy Perry, the nonprofit is the largest hunger ending agency in Maine and serves over 400 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, school pantries, and health care facilities.
Perry said that, because of the project, they were able to distribute far more than what they normally do in the past.
“It’s worked out well to be knowing that the Maine fishermen are able to get out there, do what they do best, and then we were able to give a great protein to our pantries across the state,” Perry said.
In the press release, the Fishermen’s Association announced the continuation of Fishermen Feeding Mainers “throughout 2021 and beyond.”