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Connecting Consumers and Fishermen – a Growing Trend

Last Thursday (10/23/14) I had the pleasure of attending a media event here in New Orleans to promote Paul Greenberg’s new book “American Catch.” It was a perfect October afternoon out on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain at the Bucktown Marina. Greenberg spoke about his new book, and several prominent members of our local food community did quick panel discussions as well. All of this was capped with some tasty cuisine from two local restaurants (Deanie’s Seafood and Seither’s Seafood), along with a fresh catch cooking demo by Chef Nathanial Zimet of Boucherie here in New Orleans.

Black Drum Fish from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin

Black Drum Fish from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

If you’re a New York Times reader or a fisheries enthusiast, Paul Greenberg’s name is probably familiar. He’s a regular contributor to the Times and is already very well-known for his James Beard award winning book “Four Fish,” which chronicles the the plight of four very commonly consumed fish species: tuna, salmon, cod, and sea bass. His new book “American Catch” hits a bit closer to home by focusing specifically on three American fisheries: New York oysters, Gulf shrimp, and Alaskan salmon.

Paul Greenberg speaking about his new book "American Catch."

Paul Greenberg speaking about his new book “American Catch.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Greenberg at the event, thanks to an introduction by Tom Hymel of the LSU AgCenter and SeaGrant. Jeremy and I interviewed Tom Hymel for our book, and he was the one who invited me to this event. I had an extra copy of my book on me so I passed it on to Greenberg, which I thought was super cool. How often do you get to give a copy of your book to someone like Paul Greenberg? Especially when it’s a book that’s on a subject he just wrote about. Clearly, not often, so I took the opportunity to do so.

Blue crabs from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

Blue crabs from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

I haven’t read Greenberg’s new book “American Catch” yet, but I know that it slightly overlaps with what we covered in our book. Seeing how he focused on the shrimping industry in the Gulf, I’m interested to see what he wrote about and the conclusions he came to. I know from the book’s summary that he was talks about shrimpers coming together to serve consumers directly. That’s definitely something we covered in our book, and it was mainly fueled by the information we received from Tom Hymel in our interview with him along with information I gathered at the 2014 fisheries summit back in March.

Chef Nathanial Zimet's demo - cooking fresh caught seafood from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin

Chef Nathanial Zimet’s demo – cooking fresh caught seafood from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

In our book one of the things we discuss is the success that’s happening via the online portal Louisiana Direct. This started as a small project in the Port of Delcambre as a way of directly connecting consumers and fishermen. It’s since expanded to include nearly all of coastal Louisiana’s fisheries markets like Terrebonne and Lafourche basins, Cameron parish, and the Southshore / New Orleans fishing areas. The site is a hub where fishermen post information about their current catches and how consumers can acquire these tasty morsels – sometimes they give a dock location or they give out a phone number for consumers to call.

A cornucopia of seafood from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

A cornucopia of seafood from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin.

Regardless of the method, fisherman now have a bonafide way to directly connect with their consumers. This works out well for both the fisherman and the consumer. Not only does it allow the consumer to access the freshest possible seafood, it also allows the fishermen to maximize revenues and profits because they’re no longer dependent solely on third parties for distribution, which seriously eats into profitability. This direct relationship between the consumers and the fishermen takes us back to an old way of doing business. It’s that face-to-face, handshake style of buying and selling that people seem to be returning to these days. More and more people are becoming interested in connecting with the source of their food. At one time, not really so long ago, people bought directly from each other – not from the anonymous grocery store chains that ultimately divorce people from their food’s sources in rather unhealthy ways.

A shrimp boat brought in fresh catch for Chef Nathanial's demo.

A shrimp boat brought in fresh catch for Chef Nathanial’s demo.

The trend of consumers reconnecting with the source of the food they consume is not a new one, but it’s one that appears to keep growing and changing and evolving in ways that ultimately benefit all parties involved. The more in touch and in tune people can be with where their food comes from and what it takes to get food on the table, the better off we’ll be as a society on the whole. The average US consumer is so far removed from the source of their food that it’s quite staggering at times. Books like ours and Paul Greenberg’s, along with programs like Louisiana Direct and local farmers’ markets, seek to help people realize that they can have a deeper and more meaningful connection with their food and where it comes from. It’s quite a refreshing and hopeful step forward.

The "PePaw Salad" from Seither's Seafood Restaurant. It's named for the owner's grandfather.

The “PePaw Salad” from Seither’s Seafood Restaurant. It’s named for the owner’s grandfather.

To learn more, you can find Paul Greenberg’s book “American Catch” here, and my book “Southeast Louisiana Food: A Seasoned Tradition” here.

What about you? Are you one of those people who are interested in connecting with the source of your food? Does the idea of buying fresh shrimp directly from a fisherman excite you? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to have a discussion on connecting with food sources.

Disclosure: This post contains an Amazon Affiliate links.

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