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COVID Has Maine Fishermen Supplying School Lunches

It's all thanks to a new program from the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association.

fish on school lunch tray

Before the pandemic, fishermen were used to facing volatile markets when they got to the docks. The coronavirus introduced a new predictability, but of the wrong sort — catch values in Maine were down almost 75 percent through last spring, then mostly stayed low. “It wasn’t worth it for guys to go fishing, and boats were just tied up,” says Mary Hudson, fisheries program director at the nonprofit Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. When an anonymous donor asked how to help, Hudson and her colleagues came up with Fishermen Feeding Mainers, a new program that guarantees five boats a modest but viable minimum of $2 per pound. Local companies process the fish — hake, pollack, haddock, and monkfish — which goes to Good Shepherd Food Bank and other food-assistance groups, Maine’s Wabanaki tribes, and schools as near as Westbrook and as far as Millinocket. “Some school nutritional directors were like, ‘Oh boy, how’s seafood going to go over with elementary and middle-school kids?’” Hudson says. “But it’s actually gone over really well.” Now on cafeteria trays: fish tacos, Parmesan-crusted fillets, fish cakes, and more. The association is fundraising to keep the program going at least through spring. “Even if things with COVID start to get back to normal, the economic fallout is going to take a lot longer to recover from,” Hudson adds. “Ideally, we could do this forever.”