This Fall, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens will offer sunshine, flowers and soon, fresh flounder to its many visitors.
Duke Fish, Duke University’s graduate student chapter of the American Fisheries Society, has partnered with Carteret County fishermen to open the region’s first community-supported fishery called Walking Fish.
A CSF brings local fish directly to local consumers by decreasing the supply chain and cutting out middlemen. This gives consumers direct access to freshly harvested fish. The Walking Fish project seeks to map out the exact process of how the seafood got “from boat to fork,” so that consumers know the precise history of the fish that is on their plate.
The 12-week pilot program that is set to launch Sept. 17 allows consumers to pre-order shares of locally caught seafood, which can be picked up on a weekly or bi-weekly basis in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens parking lot. The fresh fish will be delivered from Beaufort, N.C. each Thursday and will be available for pickup by shareholders from 4 to 6 p.m.
When consumers purchase seafood from the grocery store, there is uncertainty as to where the food is coming from, said Josh Stoll, a second-year graduate student in the Nicholas School of the Environment, who organized the Walking Fish project. He is studying coastal environmental management at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort.
“One of our goals is to very clearly say, ‘The fish you are eating tonight came from this fisherman on this day, and it was headed and gutted at [our fish processor], and was driven up to Durham this afternoon,’” Stoll said.
Depending on the species, the fish will come from either a sound in Carteret County or the Atlantic Ocean off of the North Carolina coast. The types of seafood that will be delivered through the Walking Fish program will vary depending on seasonal availability and weather conditions. Members can expect deliveries to include species such as flounder, triggerfish, black drum, shrimp, clams, spot and mullet.
Based off of the community-supported agricultural model, the Walking Fish CSF is the first of its kind in the southeastern United States. There are currently only two other recognized CSFs in the country—one in Gloucester, Mass. and the other in Port Clyde, Maine, said Duke Fish President Nick Mallos, a second-year graduate student at the Nicholas School of the Environment who is also stationed at the Marine Lab.
Through CSF, members of Walking Fish hope to bring attention to the issue of sustainable fishing to ensure that local stocks are well-managed and habitats are protected. In addition to preserving the marine ecosystems, the Walking Fish project would economically and socially benefit both local fishermen and consumers. The project is expected to assist local small-scale fisherman because they will be presented with a stable, consistent market, Stoll said.
Pam Morris, president and education coordinator of Carteret Catch, also said she hopes that people will see the value in eating local seafood.
“People are divorced from their food—they don’t understand how it is caught,” Morris said. “I hope that Walking Fish serves as an educational piece to inform the public about where their seafood comes from. I can see how this is going to work. I am very hopeful that it will have a great impact.”
Mallos said he wants people to understand the environmental impact of choosing to eat fish from the global market.
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“We want to make sure that people are taking responsibility for what they are eating,” he said. “I truly believe that if I put a plate of shrimp that has been farmed in Southeast Asia that has been frozen and sent here, and I give you a plate of shrimp that was caught yesterday, in this town by local fishermen, no one would ever purchase that imported seafood again.”
The name for Walking Fish was inspired by the idea that walking is connected to one’s carbon footprint, Mallos said, adding that walking is one of the least destructive modes of transportation. By eating local seafood, a consumer would leave a smaller environmental footprint because less fossil fuel is used to transport local seafood, Mallos explained.
Walking Fish also offers a broad range of educational opportunities, according to its Web site. In the Fall, the program will host lectures and post a member’s forum online which will include recipes and community input. Stoll said he hopes that such events will open a dialogue between the urban and rural sectors about fishing, conservation and the local food system. If the pilot project is successful, Duke Fish members plan to expand the program’s scope to other areas so that consumers have greater access to fresh, local seafood.