I’m not a food blogger, foodie or any other type of self-promoting gourmand. So when the tempura-coated butterfish I ordered last weekend at Pai Men Miyake arrived as a whole fish propped in an upright, swimming position my first thought was not to take a photo. Instead I thought, “How am I going to eat this with chopsticks?”
I succeeded with the chopsticks — using my fingers to pick out some of the bones — but by the time I thought about taking a photo the bones were pretty much all that was left.
Butterfish is small and bony, but it’s also delicious and from the Gulf of Maine. Our region’s groundfish fishermen recently learned what they’ll be receiving for federal disaster aid. But commercial fishermen also need people like Chef Masa Miyake, who’s made it his mission to emphasize local fish on the menus of his three Portland, Maine, restaurants.
National Fisherman caught up with some of local seafood’s champions for the special marketing section in our July issue, which is out this week. Ryan Speckman of North Carolina’s Locals Seafood, for example, grew up inland, so he didn’t experience fresh local fish until he worked on the coast as a wildlife biologist. But when he moved back to the Raleigh area, which is about three hours inland, he was disappointed that he couldn’t find that same fresh fish. He and business partner Lin Peterson started bringing fish in from the coast, selling it to farmers markets and restaurants.
In California’s Morro Bay, locals and visitors are well aware of how good fresh salmon is: It’s tradition to buy it off the boat there. However, after a total shutdown followed by another year with hardly a season, people didn’t know salmon was again available. From that need came the Fishline app, which alerts those who download it on their smartphones when boats are coming in to 12 California ports from San Diego to Fort Bragg. So far, says app creator Joe Falcone, close to 7,000 people have downloaded it.
Their stories reminded me of a session on direct marketing I attended at last year’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum. Bernie Feeney, a Massachusetts lobsterman who sells some of his catch direct, gave this advice for finding new local markets:
“Go west until you find some community that is reasonably populated and ask yourself, ‘Where can I buy fresh seafood?’ If you can’t find a place, you’ve got a location.”
Is it really that simple? Most fishermen don’t have the time to sell their catch direct, but I believe that much more can be done to promote local seafood by building on and replicating the ideas of enterprising seafood lovers like Speckman and Falcone. It’s not like anyone gave these guys a blueprint for success: they simply figured out ways to connect more people to fresh fish. I was so inspired I might even look into it myself if the writing career doesn’t work out (I do have to get better at taking food photos).