Hooked on Fish – A CSF in Chicago
A CSF, Community Supported Fishery is an alternative business model for selling fresh, locally sourced seafood. In other words it is the CSA of the fish world. It is an idea that has been around for a while on the coasts and is a popular way to locally source seafood, but obviously in the Midwest, which does not have as large of a fishing industry as the areas bordering the oceans, an idea such as this seems to go against the grain of the “local” food movement. There is another side to local food though, and that is the “sustainable” part of it. As the bi-coastal CSFs have been champions of sustainability, and it is not possible to source 100% of all the food a Midwesterner consumes locally, some people have taken the sustainable part to heart and have started Midwestern CSFs.
CSFs have been popping up in the mid-section of the country as of late in various places, including one on Food and Wine’s “Best Food Artisans” of 2014, Sitka Salmon Shares in Galesburg, Illinois. Another one right here in the Windy City that has been getting a lot of notice is Hooked on Fish. Hooked on Fish is a CSF that started up in the spirit of community-supported organizations and like a CSA, it is a membership based operation. Its members sign up in advance for 4, 8, or 12 weekly deliveries (as well as single deliveries for the uncommitted) of about 1 pound each. Each week they offer 3 types of fish that is sustainably caught or farmed. According to Karen Wollins of Hooked on Fish, they work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, an organization who raises public awareness about sustainable seafood issues through consumer guides, website, mobile apps and outreach efforts.
I asked Karen why fish and why the CSA model? She said:
“I love fish, and I also want to know where my fish came from, how it was caught, and that it is super fresh. Here in Chicago, there are only a few places dotted around the city that are reliable. I decided on the CSA model because of the convenience for those who sign up of having a pick-up point—they can pick it up on their way home from work. And we don’t have a lot of waste because I provide only what our members need. We’ve supported CSA’s for several years and love the community engendered by it. It has forced us to cook with new vegetables, such as tatsoi and rutabagas that we now love. In the same way, I hope that we can introduce people to other interesting fish that are just as good – or better – than the basic shrimp and salmon that most of us have been eating for a long time.”
She went on to say that they “aim to provide ONLY fish that is sustainably caught. We do provide farmed fish, but only if it is farmed responsibly, following guidelines established by MB Seafood Watch, Marine Stewardship Council, NOAA, and other sources.”
Hooked on Fish sources their product from a variety of sources each week trying to make one of that week’s featured fish a local choice. Featuring fish that is lesser known, their products come from the US and Canada, but also from Europe, and to a lesser extent, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. Some of the fish that they offer are chosen because they provide a good sustainability story. For example one week they offered Pacific rockfish, which was depleted, but has now made a comeback due to responsible fishing practices. According to Karen, one of Hooked on Fish’s goals is to introduce people to new types of fish (such as the Pacific rockfish) or even popular seafood that is produced in different ways. They have had whole fish which were gutted and ready for cooking along with shrimp, mussels, clams, and oysters.
It hasn’t all been easy to get sustainable fish to Chicago and offer it to the public. There have been a few issues with obtaining the licenses and permits needed to run a fish mongering CSF. Right now Hooked on Fish cannot sell at farmers’ markets without getting another permit. According to their website and other sources, the public have been positive about the products that Hooked on Fish offers and the idea of a CSF. So maybe as this catches on it will be easier for to start businesses such as this.
Karen Wollins said that in her opinion “it is important to find a fishmonger that you can trust. If they can’t tell you when and where the fish was caught, how it was caught, or if it was responsibly farmed, then don’t buy it.” Hooked on Fish provides recipes with every order to help those who may have not have had experience with cooking fish. According to Karen “if you can’t cook the fish the night you receive it, put some ice cubes in a deep dish, covered with plastic wrap. Place the fish on top of that and cover with plastic. Just make sure that the flesh of the fish doesn’t touch the ice, and replace the ice as needed.”
If you are interested in what Hooked on Fish has to offer or just curious about a CSF, more information can be found at: www.HookedOnFishChicago.com. Currently, Hooked on Fish has several pick-up points around the city, and are adding more. The Chopping Block (at both the Merchandise Mart and Lincoln Square), Flatts & Sharpe, as well as several others. For those who find that the current pick-up points are inconvenient, six customers can come together to create a new pick-up point. A pick-up point can be either a home or business.