DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So when you think of food bank donations, non-perishable goods might come to mind. But some food assistance programs across the country are beginning to partner with local fishermen. As April Fulton reports, it's helping the fishermen, the economy and also those in need of healthy food.
APRIL FULTON, BYLINE: The commercial fishermen of Santa Barbara, Calif., have been running a small seafood market on Saturdays open to the public for about 30 years.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Well, I like that guy right there. Is that a whitefish?
PAUL TEALL: It is.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK.
FULTON: Paul Teall is a longtime fisherman who sells a variety of seafood native to West Coast waters.
FULTON: Rockfish, ocean whitefish, crabs - red, yellow or brown.
FULTON: This open-air market has now become more important to Teall. His usual restaurant customers in Los Angeles stopped buying because of the pandemic.
TEALL: They're closed down to just takeout only - no more outdoor dining. So they're not ordering anything.
FULTON: Now the outdoor market is booming. He says his sales have doubled. People feel more comfortable shopping outside these days. Some of the fishermen here are taking part in another COVID-related opportunity - supplying their local food banks. Shrimpers are feeding people in Mississippi. Sockeye salmon is going to those in need in Alaska. And in Massachusetts, a traditional haddock chowder is flying off the shelves.
CATHERINE D'AMATO: This is very tasty, and it's very popular.
FULTON: That's Catherine D'Amato. She's the president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank. It serves more than 500,000 people in eastern Massachusetts. D'Amato says her food bank usually keeps four or five weeks of supplies on hand for emergencies, but as people lost jobs in the pandemic, there was a huge spike in demand.
D'AMATO: In late May we found ourselves below one week of inventory and going down rapidly. Now, that is because we would normally distribute about a million pounds of food a week, and that became 2 1/2 million pounds of food a week.
FULTON: For years, D'Amato says, she's wanted to work with the local fishing industry. In May the State Department of Agriculture connected D'Amato's organization with some grantmakers. They paid Cape Cod fishermen to catch haddock and local manufacturers to make chowder. By August, they were processing and shipping it to area food banks.
D'AMATO: And so we worked with the manufacturer to create a nutrient-rich recipe. And to date we've received 48,000 pounds, and now we have started to purchase the product.
FULTON: Studies have shown eating even moderate amounts of seafood can benefit your heart, and eating more fish might help kids with asthma symptoms. But many people are not sure how to cook it, and it can be expensive. That may be why many food programs haven't handled a lot of fresh fish.
D'AMATO: We have handled, you know, your typical fish sticks or fish made with a breading on it.
FULTON: Not necessarily the most nutritious. But the new chowder is chock full of vegetables and locally produced. It's easy. Just heat and serve.
D'AMATO: And more importantly, fish is just an excellent protein source. Consumers are used to red meat, poultry in every shape, form. But fish has been a missing component.
FULTON: The haddock chowder partnership is helping to feed families and keep fishermen fishing. D'Amato hopes to purchase more chowder and experiment with other local seafood products this winter. Paul Parker is a founder of Catch Together, a nonprofit organization that provides grants for the chowder project and other projects around the country.
PAUL PARKER: We set out to build a program that would support fair wages to 5 to 10,000 fishermen to provide food for a million Americans in need.
FULTON: That includes the fishermen of Santa Barbara. With Catch Together grants, they've provided 7,000 pounds of Pacific rockfish, yellowtail, white sea bass and black cod filets to their local food bank, and they hope to expand the project later this year. For NPR News, I'm April Fulton.
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