CHATHAM – Fish chowder is a Cape Cod tradition, and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance hopes a new program centering around the staple will facilitate two goals: supporting local independent fishermen and providing food pantries with delicious, nutritious ready-to-serve meals.
The program takes advantage of the wide availability of small haddock, which don't bring a strong price in the marketplace (due to small fillets) but are perfect for use in fish chowder. With donations providing financial support, the Alliance will guarantee fishermen a fair price for haddock, keeping them working, and underwrite the processing and distribution of the chowder, under the “Small Boats, Big Taste” brand (a play on the Alliance's “Small Boats, Big Ideas” motto).
The first batch — which, at 20,000 pounds, will result in 17,700 18-ounce containers of chowder — will be ready this week to distribute to food pantries, including the Family Pantry of Cape Cod and other local food banks through the Cape Cod Hunger Network as well as the Greater Boston Food Bank. The chowder will initially be distributed free to pantries as a continuation of the Alliances's Fish for Families program, according to Seth Rolbein, director of the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, which is overseen by the Alliance.
“If all goes well, we'll do another 20,000 pounds before the end of August and keep it rolling right into the fall and winter,” Alliance CEO John Pappalardo wrote in the group's recent newsletter. The goal for the program's first year is to support fishermen catching 100,000 pounds of haddock, he wrote. which will result in 30,000 pounds of fillets. Most chowders are around 15 percent fish, but the goal is to have the Alliance's chowder contain 25 percent fish, resulting in a total of 120,000 pounds of chowder in the program's first year.
Grants for the program were provided by Catch Together and Multiplier.
Haddock are one of the most plentiful fish in the area, Pappalardo said; in fact there's so many that they aren't growing as well as in the past, possibly due to overcrowding. The smaller fish produce small fillets which don't sell well in fish markets, so fishermen don't get a good price and do their best to avoid the species. Providing a predictable price will encourage fishermen to catch the fish.
The haddock will be filleted at Great Eastern Seafood in Boston and the chowder made by Plenus Group in Lowell.
The Alliance is also pursuing expanding the program into federal distribution programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and plans to introduce the “Small Boats, Big Taste” brand into retail, wholesale and restaurant markets to help build the program's sustainability. A press release likened the program to the Newman's brand, providing a high-quality product while supporting independent fishermen and helping feed the hungry. Eventually other types of chowder, such as quahog or oyster stew, could be added based on the needs of local fishermen and product availability, according to the press release. Revenue from retail and wholesale sales will support continued distribution to food banks at a minimal cost.
The benefit to food pantry clients, Pappalardo pointed out, is that the chowder just needs to be heated up and it's ready to serve. “It's nutritious, delicious and kids often lap it up,” he wrote.