ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Thousands of family farmers have gotten a boost in recent years by selling directly to customers instead of to a distributor or a grocery store. People, often in and around big cities, sign up for a weekly box of fresh vegetables. Well, now, as NPR's Chris Arnold reports, the same approach is being tried in New England by fishermen.

CHRIS ARNOLD: You're probably familiar with that box of local fruit and vegetables that people pick up every week, and so picture that, but instead, you've got a two-foot long, wide-eyed codfish. That, along with some other fish, is what people were picking up off the back of a truck in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood this week.

Ms. ERIN HENNESSY: I have two nephews, who are seven and four, and they're going to get a kick out of me bringing home a big bucket of whole fish.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARNOLD: The old, dead fish with the head still on.

Ms. HENNESSY: Yeah.

Ms. EMILY KURROS: Yeah. You do have - you have to have a spirit of adventure about it if you're not accustomed to it.

ARNOLD: Erin Hennessy and Emily Kurros are two of the customers buying the fish direct from the fishermen. They're both graduate students getting Ph.D.s in food policy and nutrition. They say at around $3 a pound, this is a good deal for really fresh fish.

Ms. HENNESSY: We're definitely saving money over the long run and eating better for it. And I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never filleted a fish, but I think it's fun to figure out how to cook it. I think it'll be great.

ARNOLD: And there are apparently a lot of other people who like this idea. Niaz Dorry is one of the organizers who is delivering the fish on the truck here. The program's only been in operation a few weeks, and she says, already, it's hard to handle all of the demand.

Ms. NIAZ DORRY (Director, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance): Initially, we thought we would have between 50 to 100 people for the pilot program.

ARNOLD: And how many did they get? More than 1,000 people called up and e-mailed and said that they wanted to sign up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DORRY: That's right. I still laugh about it because it really blew our minds. For the first pilot, there are about 780 people who are actually signed up, and we have 500-plus people on a waiting list.

ARNOLD: Dorry is a former environmental activist who is now with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. The group's goal is to foster sustainable small-scale fishing communities.

Basically, Dorry says for a host of reasons, it's better for people to eat locally caught fish rather than buying fish or, say, shrimp that was farmed halfway around the world.

Ms. DORRY: Farmed shrimp has added pesticides, herbicides. And then, in China, we're hearing many reports of human rights violations around shrimp farming.

ARNOLD: This fish-buying program is called the CSF, for Community Supported Fishery. There are just a few so far that have sprung up in New England, and one of the goals is to help fishermen earn enough money to survive. This CSF is called Cape Ann Fresh Catch, and it's based in the fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Mr. PAUL METIVIER: Last year was horrible.

ARNOLD: That's Paul Metivier, who owns a fishing boat out of Gloucester. Last year, high fuel prices really put the squeeze on boat captains like him. This year, he's hoping that selling fish to the CSF will help to boost his profits.

Mr. METIVIER: One (unintelligible).

ARNOLD: Metivier is just returning to the dock with a catch of cod and flounder, 150 pounds of which he is selling to the CSF. The group so far is buying from six boats in the harbor.

Metivier says the CSF pays him about 30 percent more than he usually gets selling into the commercial fish market. So, he wins, and the customers win by cutting out most of the middlemen. There's no processing, the fish aren't stored very long, and all that means that there's a little more cash in Metivier's pocket, which, with two kids, is much needed.

Mr. METIVIER: (Unintelligible), and they want to do something, and they want to spend your money all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARNOLD: Back in Boston, about 20 of the new CSF customers have shown up for a demonstration to learn how to fillet a fish.

Mr. STEVE PARKES (Coordinator, Cape Ann Fresh Catch): See how I'm pulling - I'm pulling the skin as I'm pushing the knife?

ARNOLD: We're in a large kitchen, and they've got a good teacher. Steve Parkes, one of the CSF organizers, used to be the top fish buyer for Whole Foods grocery stores.

Mr. PARKES: You're right on the bone, okay? Feel the bone, okay? Just keep making cuts.

ARNOLD: Retirees Alan and Helen Levitin have just bought a new knife. Last week, their first attempt at filleting a codfish didn't go so well.

Mr. ALAN LEVITIN: I actually butchered it. I had no idea what I was doing. There was actually - this is as good a fish as we've ever had, though.

ARNOLD: Other fishing ports in New England are looking into starting their own CSF programs, and some academics think that that could create some much-needed income for many small, struggling fishing communities.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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