Early this year, Mississippi food pantries received deliveries of locally caught, processed and packaged shrimp, harvested by members of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United.

A $50,000 Catch Together grant facilitated by the nonprofit Extra Table helped Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United purchase 20,000 pounds of local heads-on shrimp. The fishing organization coordinated with processors to have the catch processed and peeled, resulting in 13,000 pounds delivered to families in need across the state in 2-pound frozen bags, comprising 36,000 meals.

"It was a wonderful opportunity, and it was a great feeling," said Ryan Bradley, executive director of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United and an NF Highliner. "I got to tag along when Extra Table was distributing those shrimp. It's not every day they get fresh seafood in these local food banks."

Mississippi food banks are reporting a 30 to 50 percent increase in need as a result of pandemic-related hardships. The dramatic shift in market demand has affected fishermen, as well.

“With demand from restaurants all but gone, this year has been a challenge for our members,” said Bradley. “This effort not only supports these local fishermen and their families during a difficult time, but also lets them support their fellow Mississippians with fresh, nutritious food.”

Catch Together, working with Multiplier, plans to issue more than $5 million in grants around the country to aid fishermen in providing fish for local food banks. The initiative is part of Catch Invest, which was founded as a national permit-banking organization.

"The goal of this program was to buy local shrimp,” said Bradley. “We were able to make sure the fishermen got a fair price for their shrimp."

There should be more to come from the Catch Together grants this year, Bradley added.

"These types of community efforts have never been more important,” Martha Allen, executive director of Extra Table, told the Northside Sun. “Hunger was a critical issue well before the pandemic and we are grateful to be working with Mississippi shrimpers and other organizations to help our neighbors during this time of crisis.”

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 15 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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