Launched amid a crisis, the haddock chowder program developed by Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is now being celebrated at the highest levels of the federal government and used as a national model and call to action.
“There are all kinds of statistics to show how successful this program has been: Almost 300,000 pounds of haddock chowder distributed to food banks across New England and beyond. More than 200,000 pounds of haddock purchased. Scores of fishermen paid and jobs in seafood processing and manufacturing supported,” said Seth Rolbein of the Fishermen’s Alliance.
Now there is an opportunity to sustain and expand the program as many people continue to struggle with repercussions from the pandemic.
The U..S Department of Agriculture has a huge purchasing and distribution program that sends American-made food across the country to food banks, schools, the military, and prisons. Purchases in that program historically have beef, chicken and pork products.
“We want fish, and independent, American small-boat fishermen, to be brought to a par in this effort,” Rolbein said. “The haddock chowder program proves that’s feasible.”
The Massachusetts Congressional delegation agrees, expressing their strong support in a letter to the new Secretary of Agriculture in the Biden administration, Tom Vilsack:
“To date, small-boat family fleets have not been able to participate in USDA procurement programs. Haddock is a plentiful, wild-caught fish that can be landed by many small-boat fishermen in the Northeast,” the letter read. “We urge you to consider partnering with the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance and other family fishing industry leaders.”
The letter was distributed by Congressman Bill Keating and signed by United States Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, plus Massachusetts Congressmen Katherine Clark, Jim McGovern, Steve Lynch, and Richard Neal.
The delegation celebrates the haddock chowder program and notes its poster-child potential.
“This initiative thus features a sustainable new product that keeps family fishermen on the water and provides volumes of nutritious, affordable, ready-to-serve meals. Moreover, the Alliance initiative is a replicable model that would be adopted by other independent fleets across the country – from Alaska to Maine to the Gulf of Mexico.”
While the Fishermen’s Alliance continues to work with legislators and the USDA to include sustainable seafood products from independent fishermen in USDA purchasing and distribution programs, it is gearing up for the fall chowder season.
With grant support from Catch Together and MIT Sea Grant, purchases from the state for delivery to regional food banks from Cape Cod to Springfield, and distribution across New England and as far south as Delaware, the haddock chowder program was launched in the darkest days of the pandemic to keep fishermen on the water and help friends and neighbors facing food insecurity.
To keep the program going, the Fishermen’s Alliance held a party in early July at their Chatham offices. People bought chowder – which is not yet available in retail establishments. The event’s success has prompted the Fishermen’s Alliance to make a case of chowder available for pickup to those who donate $100. Access the form here.