In late October three men from the BBC and one Cornwall fisherman checked into the rooms above the Crow’s Nest: James Smith, Luke Pavey, and Monty Halls, producer, camera man and explorer-television personality, along with Nigel Legge, a Cornwall lobsterman who still makes the traditional lobster pots out of willow branches.
The BBC men are working on a six-part series on the state of fishing in England – dire – and had heard about a small innovative program in Gloucester that might be a rare bonus for the small family fisherman. Cape Ann Fresh Catch, or Community Supported Fisheries, modeled on the method of paying a farmer in advance for a season of crops, was what the BBC guys came to understand and film. They interviewed Niaz Dorry of the North Atlantic Marine Alliance and met the people of Cape Ann Fresh Catch. They shot footage in Gloucester, and took the camera out on the Kathryn Leigh and the Razzo, local boats, following a catch right to its distribution site, and they took the concept back to the Cornwall fishing village of Cadgwith.
Cape Ann Fresh Catch, managed by the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives with help from North Atlantic Marine Alliance and Turner Fisheries (they manage cutting and distribution), allows a fisherman to be paid in advance for a season of catches. Customers in return receive weekly fish shares right off the boat, picked up at one of seventeen different sites. One short trip from boat to distribution point, the Fresh Catch system lessens the carbon footprint on a family’s fish dinner, and keeps the economics simple and local.
Filming for the BBC program in England, called “The Big Catch,” had focused on the 16th century fishing village of Cadgwith, at England’s far Southern tip. Nigel Legge, the voice of Cadgwith on camera, had never been to the U.S., and so the BBC guys brought him along for the trip. A couple of times I drove by the Crow’s Nest and saw Nigel sitting on the front stoop looking very much at home.
Pilchards, a type of herring, were the original Cadgwith catch, making a fishing village of the shingled beach, and dotting its hillside with stone, thatched huts. Years ago it might have taken days to pull up a pilchard catch, and, much like Gloucester’s whiting industry, the shore was covered in salting, drying and pressing infrastructure. According to another local fisherman, Jonathan Fletcher, a paved road in the 1970‘s brought Londoners to Cadgwith. Plumbed and updated, those picturesque stone huts became coveted second homes. Fletcher says only seventy people live year-round in Cadgwith now. Twelve fishermen fish out of the stony, slipper of a beach, where the tiny fleet rests when it’s not at sea. There are no longer enough pilchards from which to make a living; These days the catch is lobster, monkfish, cod, pollock, and most importantly crab. But, Fletcher says, crab will soon be as antique as the old willow lobster pots, because the price of gurnard, a spiny fish used for bait, has risen too high.
Fletcher paints a grim picture of British fishing, starting with the complaint that the British just don’t eat much fish. “Parents have raised kids without fish,” he says. As a member of the European Union, British fishermen share waters and regulations with other nations whose cultural differences reflect in their fishing practices. The French LOVE fish, remember?
“Les regulations sont pour les autres,” is what Fletcher claims French fishermen mutter casting their nets. English fish counters, he says, pale in comparison to the groaning abundance of a French poissonnier. The French make a happy dinner from a pile of whole crabs; the English want only the meat. “People don’t understand fish here,” Fletcher complains. Gloucester isn’t the only town with fishing woes.
The BBC crew left Gloucester charmed by the city and impressed with Community Supported Fishing. They returned to Cadgwith with the Cape Ann Fresh Catch story, to which some fishermen, particularly Fletcher who also owns a fish market, listened. In mid-December Cadgwith staged a pared-down seafood throw-down, one of the ways CAFC gets the local-fish-and-ways-to-cook-it message to the streets.
On a gray weekend two weeks before Christmas, beside the old Pilchard Palace where pilchards were once salted and pressed, Monty Halls showed a small but eager audience how to pick a crab while local chefs prepared Bait Box Stew, a mediterranean-style stew with anchovies, garlic, parsley, white wine and chopped tomatoes, to which they added wrasse, trigger fish, dog, cod and pollock. In Gloucester we might call it “By-Catch Stew.”
James Smith, the BBC producer, reported that the crowd tasted goujons and conger eels, tossed in seasoned flour and sauteed in butter. “These went down a storm!” Smith wrote by email, adding, “we picked whole brown crab, and ate this with French bread and butter. Always a winner!”
Smith says it was inspiring to see kids getting involved, tasting everything; the adults, he said, would prefer to buy their fish straight off the boats.
“And most importantly, our local fishermen and their wives were rather surprised at how enthusiastic the public were – and these are all people who live within 10 miles or so of here.”
The fishing industry worldwide is a tangled, knotted mess. The only thing that everyone agrees on is that no one can even really understand the problems. But the Community Supported Fishery concept’s genius is its simplicity: Here’s the fisherman who lives in your town. Here’s his fish. Here’s how to prepare it – here, have a taste.
That simplicity, the small scale of the economy, is perhaps why Cape Ann Fresh Catch has the power to cross seas. It’s not certain that Cadgwith will adopt the idea, but it’s very impressive that the concept was able to get there.
The Big Catch will air this spring, with a full hour dedicated to the BBC trip to Gloucester. Local viewings may be scheduled. Bait Box Stew – or By-Catch Stew – will be served.
The BBC Cadgwith photos are courtesy of Bill Scolding.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
4 large garlic cloves, diced fine
4 sprigs of parsley, chopped
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes with juice
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
3 cups water (if using the tomato juice, strain the tomatoes and measure the liquid so that there is three cups liquid, including water, in total.)
salt and pepper
2 wide strips of orange zest
2 pounds of fish cut into 2 inch pieces (firm white fish is fine, as in cod or haddock, but see what you can find at the counter. I used native shrimp, flounder, squid and cod.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley for garnish.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed soup pot over medium low heat. Add the onions, celery and carrot. Cook, stirring, until thoroughly tender, about 10 to 15 minutes, and add the garlic and parsley. Cook another few minutes until the garlic has colored slightly.
Stir in the anchovies and the tomatoes. Cook, stirring often, for ten minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and the mixture is aromatic.
Stir in the wine, and raise the heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for five minutes, stirring often. Add the water and simmer. Add salt, about 1-2 teaspoons, and reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes, stirring often. Taste for seasonings.
Stir in the orange zest, fish and simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes. The stew should only simmer; do not let it boil. The fish should be cooked through and the broth aromatic. Add pepper to taste, and stir in the parsley. remove the orange peel. Remove from the heat and serve with crusty bread.
*** I used native shrimp, and precooked them in their shells. I strained them, reserving the broth, shelled them, and used the broth in place of some of the water. I added the cooked little bodies at the very end.)