BRUNSWICK, Maine — Regional development nonprofit CEI has released an online tool aimed at helping retailers, wholesalers and consumers source Maine seafood.
The aim is to integrate the state’s resources with the growing locavore and buy-local movements that have fortified Maine’s agriculture industry.
“Maine just has so much seafood to offer,” said Hugh Cowperthwaite, the director of CEI’s fisheries and waterfront programs. “We have the third highest landings in the U.S. for seafood, and at the same time, 90 percent of the seafood that’s consumed in the U.S. is coming from overseas.”
Over the course of two years, CEI researchers conducted a survey of the harvesters, processors, shippers and farmers who make up Maine’s seafood industry.
Those hundreds of connections are logged in CEI’s online database, offering a one-stop resource for identifying the state’s seafood industry.
Users can filter results within the different categories by county and product, making it easy for someone looking for the closest oyster farmer or cold-storage facility.
The website even features a tool noting which species are in and out of season every month, giving consumers an idea of what they should be looking for at the local fish market.
In recent years, significant attention has focused on improving access to locally sourced food, especially in institutional settings, such as public schools. While local meat and vegetables have been highlighted, Maine seafood has been largely overlooked, Cowperthwaite said.
“Seafood just has not been in the forefront of those conversations around food aggregation,” he said. “Our intent was to try and move seafood a little more into the spotlight, where produce and agriculture products are pretty well understood.”
There are some signs that it is starting to change. For example, in January, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan announced an initiative to get local fish onto the menus in the city’s public schools and hospitals.
Cowperthwaite and his team hope that their online tool can make it easier to make connections between producers, wholesalers and institutions that can help put local fish on Mainers’ plates.
“There’s a lot of efforts to get people to buy local and think about the carbon footprint of their food,” Cowperthwaite said. “Our hope is that consumers, but also businesses that are sourcing seafood and making those larger purchases, can just keep that in mind and think about, ‘well maybe there’s something closer to home I can source.’”