CHATHAM -- Launched amid the pandemic crisis, the haddock chowder program developed by Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is now being celebrated at the highest levels of the federal government and used as a national model and call to action.

Part of the alliance's Small Boats, Big Taste campaign, the program was meant to keep independent fishermen at work while providing nutritious meals to area food banks. It's made with haddock, which are plentiful in Cape waters but don't command a strong price in the marketplace because the fillets are small -- but perfect for chowder.

“There are all kinds of statistics to show how successful this program has been: Almost 300,000 pounds of haddock chowder distributed to food banks across New England and beyond. More than 200,000 pounds of haddock purchased. Scores of fishermen paid and jobs in seafood processing and manufacturing supported,” said Seth Rolbein of the Chatham-based Fishermen’s Alliance.

Now there is an opportunity to sustain and expand the program as many people continue to struggle with repercussions from the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a huge purchasing and distribution program that sends American-made food across the country to food banks, schools, the military, and prisons. Purchases in that program historically have beef, chicken and pork products.

“We want fish, and independent, American small-boat fishermen, to be brought to a par in this effort,” Rolbein said. “The haddock chowder program proves that’s feasible.”

The Massachusetts Congressional delegation agrees, and has expressed their strong support in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

“To date, small-boat family fleets have not been able to participate in USDA procurement programs. Haddock is a plentiful, wild-caught fish that can be landed by many small-boat fishermen in the Northeast,” the letter reads. “We urge you to consider partnering with the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance and other family fishing industry leaders.”

The letter was distributed by Congressman Bill Keating and signed by U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, plus Massachusetts Congressmen Katherine Clark, Jim McGovern, Steve Lynch, and Richard Neal.

The delegation praised the haddock chowder program and noted its poster-child potential.

“This initiative thus features a sustainable new product that keeps family fishermen on the water and provides volumes of nutritious, affordable, ready-to-serve meals. Moreover, the Alliance initiative is a replicable model that would be adopted by other independent fleets across the country – from Alaska to Maine to the Gulf of Mexico.”

While the Fishermen’s Alliance continues to work with legislators and the USDA to include sustainable seafood products from independent fishermen in the federal agency’s purchasing and distribution programs, it is gearing up for the fall chowder season.

The haddock chowder program was launched in the darkest days of the pandemic to keep fishermen on the water and help friends and neighbors facing food insecurity. The initiative had grant support from Catch Together and MIT Sea Grant, along with individual donors.

To keep the program going, the Fishermen’s Alliance held a party earlier this summer at its Chatham offices. People bought chowder – which is not yet available in retail establishments.

The event’s success has prompted the Fishermen’s Alliance to make a case of chowder available for pick-up to those who donate $100:


Original story can be found HERE.