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New Website Bridges Gap Between Local Seafood, Consumers

Tom Porter

PORTLAND, Maine — A local nonprofit has launched a new Web tool that it hopes will make it easier for consumers to access locally caught seafood.

Coastal Enterprises Inc., or CEI — which works to spur small business development — says the idea is to do for seafood what the locavore and "buy local" movements are doing for Maine agriculture.

From an office overlooking Portland's working waterfront, Hugh Cowperthwaite sits hunched over his computer.

At his fingertips, he says, is a wealth of information about Maine seafood — all in one place. Cowperthwaite is the fisheries project director for CEI, which has just launched a website to integrate Maine's lucrative seafood industry into the local food movement.

This "one-stop shop" is the result of a 2-year study, looking at the industry from top to bottom.

"From landings, right up through transportation and cold storage, you know the different seafood species that are landed, the value-added-products, the processors," he says.

By pointing their browsers to CEI's website, Cowperthwaite says discerning consumers will be able to find places that sell, for example, freshly caught haddock, redfish or whatever is in season at the moment.

"Basically 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from overseas, and with Maine seafood landings and aquaculture valued at $350 million to $450 million, why aren't more people eating Maine seafood and how can we help make that happen?" he says.

  "Right now it's very difficult sometimes for Mainers sometimes to access local seafood, even though we're in a place where you'd think it would really easy to get local seafood," says Togue Brawn, who operates Maine Dayboat Scallops.

She says the new website should help both sellers, like her, and consumers.

"In terms of impact on the local economy, it's always better when you can reduce inefficiency and when you can reduce wasted time," Brawn says.

"One of the questions I get asked most often working for a fishing organization is, 'where can I buy local seafood?'" says Ben Martens of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, "whether that's a chef or a local consumer who wants to take it home and cook it up in their own kitchen."

He says even those who work in the seafood industry have a hard time knowing who is selling what and where it's being processed and stored. He hopes the new Web tool, and the transparency that comes with it, could help overcome that.

"We think that's going to be an important step forward in getting local seafood into our local fish shops, our local markets, our local restaurants," Martens says.

And most importantly, he says, it could result in Maine fishermen getting a better price for their products.