Maine Students Enjoy Local Seafood
Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Maine Sea Grant and the Maine Department of Education Provide Local Seafood and Educational Resources to Maine Students
Despite Maine’s close proximity to the Atlantic, it is rare for students in Maine’s public schools to have fresh local seafood as part of their school lunches. The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA), a Brunswick nonprofit focused on rebuilding the fisheries of the Gulf of Maine and sustaining Maine’s fishing communities for future generations, began to offer free local seafood to Maine schools in 2020 as part of their Fishermen Feeding Mainers program. In the past two years, over 20 school districts around the state have taken advantage of this opportunity.
Beginning in late 2021, a new collaboration supported by NOAA Fisheries Federal COVID-relief funding was formed between MCFA, Maine Sea Grant, and the Maine Department of Education to not only bring local seafood to Maine schools, but to also provide educational resources about the fish, the fishermen, and how to prepare it at school or at home. Recipe cards translated into multiple languages and posters featuring the fishermen involved in the project are just some of the materials available to students and food staff at the participating schools.
Brunswick’s School Nutrition Director, Scott Smith, says, “Offering fresh fish in the past has been difficult because of the cost. Participating in the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program gives us that opportunity. From the boats in Portland Harbor to our kitchens within a couple of days - it doesn't get much better than that.”
Fishermen Feedings Mainers started during the pandemic when fishermen were having a difficult time finding markets for their catch due to restaurant closures. Many Mainers were also struggling to provide enough food for their families. These two needs sparked an idea to purchase seafood from Maine’s community-based fishermen, use local businesses to cut the fish, and then donate it to those facing food insecurity.
“To know that the fish I’m catching is making its way to local schools is amazing. Kids need to be eating more seafood and I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this program that’s not only feeding Maine’s students but also keeping Maine fishermen and our working waterfront working,” said Randy Cushman, Port Clyde fisherman.
Schools are just some of the more than 60 recipient groups throughout the state that have received free seafood meals as a part of the program. To date, the Fishermen Feeding Mainers program has provided over 400,000 meals with the help of several grants from family foundations, COVID relief funding through the Governor’s office, and support from hundreds of individual donors.
Schools interested in participating can contact Robin Kerber at the Department of Education (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Together, we persevere.
Photo Credits: Scott Gable, whose work focuses on how humans and nature impact one another (www.thebigscout.com). Photos are of RSU12 in Whitefield and F/V Northern Lights out of Portland.