Project Update Part 1: Supporting Local Fishing and Underutilized Fish Species

In New England, the livelihoods of many depend on the sea and have for generations. With the rise of regulations and a decline of newcomers to the industry in recent decades, New Englanders have slowly lost their connection to the fishing industry. UMass Dartmouth (in partnership with Northeastern University, Eastern CT State University, and MA Maritime Academy) have created an expansive network of people across the New England food system to reconnect their campus communities to the local fishing industry since receiving a New England Food Vision Prize in 2018.

This year the schools collaborating on the prize hope to educate their communities about the importance of supporting the local fishing economy while also promoting the use of underutilized and abundant species in their dining halls.

The team is focusing on encouraging students not to just eat local fish, but to consciously and purposefully eat underutilized fish harvested in New England waters. “Our community is used to fish, it’s more why they should eat underutilized fish,” said Campus Executive Chef Kevin Gibbons, referencing UMASS Dartmouth’s location near Buzzards Bay and historically fishing-focused New Bedford. “Students are sure to enjoy fish on the menu as they have in the past, but we want them to understand the why, the local source and the flavor,” added Executive Chef of Board Operation Arthur Dill.

And so far, this vision has been a success. The UMass Dining Services Team reported that they have had positive reactions from the campus community after using underutilized fish such as scup, monkfish, red fish, and dogfish on their menus for the 2018-2019 school year. “One person even commented on how much they liked the variety of fish we served this past year in our end of the year comment board,” said Gibbons.

To get a closer look at what it takes to get these species into their kitchens and be better equipped to tell the story of local fish in the dining hall, Kirby Roberts, Marketing Director at UMass Dartmouth Dining Services, and communications intern Michaella Lesieur (who has been writing regular blog posts documenting the underutilized fish project), accompanied fisherman Doug Feeney on his boat “The Noah” (named for his son) in late July. The group sailed from Chatham, and as Feeney hauled in nets of dogfish and skate, he spoke of his experiences as a fisherman, and the shift towards underutilized species instead of more well-known species like Cod, whose dwindling numbers have had an impact on the local fishing community. Under-utilized species, says Feeney, are the future of fishing in New England.

To better connect the participating campus communities with local fishermen like Feeney, UMass Dartmouth has partnered with the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center. New Bedford is the nation’s largest fishing port and is only 15 minutes from the UMass Dartmouth campus. Laura Orleans, Executive Director, believes that the stories fishermen tell about their own experiences will resonate with the communities and convey the importance of supporting the industry in the region. “We’re really hoping to share the lives of the fishermen and what they’re currently going through with these campus communities,” said Orleans, who is also playing a pivotal role in a conference being planned for next April by UMass Dartmouth and the other university partners.

The prize-winning team and Orleans hope to have events at the conference that will connect students, staff, fishermen and community leaders in an effort to support using underutilized fish in dining halls. A highlight will be the “Monkfish Showdown,” where each of the dining teams of the respective schools will prepare a dish using the ingredient and be evaluated by a panel of judges.

Another project being planned in partnership with the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center is an educational program for UMass Dartmouth students to bring the stories of the fishermen to K-12 school children. This program aims to both further educate the local community about the fishing industry in New England, and to further the understanding of the UMass Dartmouth students. “When you teach,” UMass Dartmouth Operations Director Nancy Wiseman explained, “you learn on a deeper level.”

As the new semester approaches, the team involved with the project is hard at work creating connections with the New England fishing industry to support a vital part of the regional economy and to amplify the stories of this industry to the students.

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We're really hoping to share the lives of the fishermen and what they're currently going through with these campus communities.

Laura Orleans, Executive Director, New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center