In Which I Join Fish School

Carolyn Eastman, Eastman Seafood and her family's commercial fishing boat

Carolyn Eastman, Eastman Seafood and her family's commercial fishing boat

Carolyn Eastman, quite recently an education consultant who helped align curricula to meet state standards, teaches a different audience now. Me, for example. In addition to buying our weekly veggies from local growers, I spent part of Tuesday afternoon in an impromptu fish school, conducted in front of Carolyn's table at the Seacoast Growers Market in Hampton, NH.

In her second week as a merchant at the Tuesday afternoon market, Carolyn drew on her family's decades of commercial fishing in the north Atlantic to teach me some basics about New England fish, fishing, and advocacy within the world of federally regulated fishing. A few (fish) nuggets:

  • Buying local works particularly well for fish. Buying fish locally from a trusted fishing family offers benefits equal to buying any other food locally: taste, quality, and trust. And then underscore a factor that may be even more important with fish than with fruits and vegetables: freshness.
    • Proof of the goodness of these principles: A wonderful recipe: Fabulous Flounder. It is fabulous, as advertised. I'm hooked. The original recipe is from Pittsburgh, PA's online Post-Gazette.
    • Local fish may be bigger as well as better. Local fish operations follow stringent regulations that limit size of both fish and overall catch, with the result that locally caught fillets of cod and haddock (a North Shore favorite - and mine, too) and will be much larger than fish brought from unregulated waters.
    • Worry less about cod stocks. The Eastmans reach their daily 800-pound limit on cod easily and quickly on the limited number of days they are permitted to fish this much-loved fish. Carolyn Eastman says sizable cod are plentiful in the six-to-eight inch nets required for fishing them these days. I told her my impression from the distant inland world of central Kentucky - that cod is so endangered it's not responsible to eat it. Huge controversies continue over cod's status, visible by googling. I value and trust a local fishing family's hands-on assessment, because their livelihood depends on fishing sustainably. I look forward to fresh-caught cod next week, perhaps. It had sold out before I got to Carolyn's stand this week.
    • Locals are loving local fish and seafood. The Eastmans just launched Eastman's Local Catch, a food-buying club in Seabrook Beach, New Hampshire. Sixty families have joined. They receive filleted haddock, cod, pollack, flounder, monkfish, hake or ocean catfish each week. The Eastmans recently opened a local fish store in Seabrook Beach, their family's first.
    • Editing nature can produce unintended consequences. When dwindling populations of dogfish led to protections for this spiny sand shark under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act -- the intentions of which surely sound useful to me -- dogfish rebounded. Too much rebound, says Carolyn. Dogfish now seem to take up more than their allotted level in the oceanic food pyramid, and so are hungrily eating up other fragile fish populations, decreasing fishing catches and generally causing havoc. Advocacy matters as much as catching, cleaning, and selling fish and seafood. Carolyn's education work these days goes beyond fish facts for first-time customers. She serves on a committee that will produce the first annual New Hampshire Fish and Seafood Festival -- "Celebrating 400 years of local seafood" -- in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on September 19, 2009. Excited members of Seacoast Eat Local promoted this new event from their table at the Portsmouth Farmers Market when I visited a few days ago. At the end of the Tuesday market in Hampton, where I met her, Carolyn intended to go directly to a meeting on groundfish regulation with other commercial fisher-people and, I believe, the NOAA Fisheries Service.
Fresh from Eastman's Seafood on August 12, 2009

Fresh from Eastman's Seafood on August 12, 2009

Sign of a new era is local eating in New England

Sign of a new era is local eating in New England

Carolyn's husband, Eddie Eastman, has fished commercially out of Seabrook Beach, New Hampshire, for 25 years, and, with other family members, manages party boats. His particular love is the fishing itself.

A knowledgeable 89-year old here tells me the Eastman family has been a big name in fishing in New Hampshire since way back when. When I searched a web history of nearby Hampton, New Hampshire, I found 151 references to "Eastman" -- so the family has roots as well as sea legs.

Carolyn Eastman's work is aimed at developing new ways to sustain and continue a beloved family business. I am on board with that mission, and hope to be eating Eastman fish and seafood for decades to come.

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