The Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust (MVFPT) has expanded its community seafood program, and is looking to distribute more than 36,500 containers of black sea bass stew and chowder to Island folks.
This includes organizations like the Island Food Pantry, the Good Shepherd Parish, Serving Hands, M.V. Boys & Girls Club, First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, and other groups that can distribute food to the community.
Recently, the trust was awarded a $406,000 grant to help expand the seafood program in order to purchase and process black sea bass and scup to be made into chowder and stew.
The grant was awarded by Catch Together, a nonprofit organization that invests capital in support of fishermen, fishing communities, and ocean conservation throughout the country.
The grant provided the trust with the ability to purchase 40,000 pounds of black sea bass and 2,500 pounds of scup last fall to be made into fish chowder and stew, and then donated to food insecurity organizations.
The grant also offered fuel stipends to fishermen who were able to harvest sea bass scup, helping a total of 45 fishermen. To date, more than 6,500 containers of fish stew have been made, and more than 16,000 containers of fish chowder.
According to MVFPT executive director, Shelley Edmundson, the original grant amount started out at around $200,000 to buy the sea bass.
“We went through that amount of sea bass we had set aside from the grant in less than a week,” Edmundson said. “We ended up getting permission to expand, and basically doubled the program.”
After buying tens of thousands of pounds of fish from local fishermen, Edmundson said the fish were shipped to two different processors, who filleted the fish and froze it.
Over the past few months, the trust has been working on getting those fillets produced into fish stew and chowder.
“Now we are in that final journey, where we have almost 20,000 containers of fish stew and chowder created. It’s been in different freezer storage spaces off-Island, and now we are orchestrating bringing a bunch of it to the Island to distribute,” she said. “The exciting part is now happening.”
After two weeks, the entire distribution process will start again, until all the food that is being stored on the Island gets out to the public.
“Then, we will go get another batch from one of the larger storage spaces and continue the cycle,” Edmundson said. They will also freeze some of the food to have on hand if the need arises.
The Community Seafood Program, according to Edmundson, began at the outset of COVID, when the trust was more focused on buying local sea scallops and donating them to food service organizations.
MVFPT received a donation from the Fink Family Foundation to launch the sea scallop pilot program. They were also able to do a smaller-scale program where lobsters were purchased from local fishermen, and the trust worked with Island Grown Initiative to process them into lobster mac and cheese.
“Those were donated last fall. Offering the entire community high-quality, locally sourced protein — that is something we are really proud to feel like we were, and continue to be a part of,” Edmundson said.
She highlighted how all the food service organizations have worked closely together through the pandemic, and have learned how to be most efficient when collaborating. “Anyone who is connected to some sort of food outlet, to think through how that connection can be dispersed to more people and help more people on the Island. That’s something we and other organizations have been looking at closely,” Edmundson said.
The MVFPT also purchased the Menemsha Fish House, where it will be opening another program, called the Martha’s Vineyard Seafood Collaborative.
The collaborative will serve as a wholesale fish market operated by MVFPT, with them purchasing any seafood that comes to the docks, and getting that out to Island sources like restaurants and caterers.
“Our goal would be to have most of that food absorbed on the Island. Through that program, we hope to have seafood donations, even if it’s on a smaller scale,” Edmundson said. “We will be able to process food onsite, and my hope is we can get some grants to keep up all these donations to the different food groups.”