Monday, December 16, 2013

*Local* Seafood in Maine

Earlier this fall, we went out to dinner with some visitors from Florida.  We were in Castine and the season was ending, so there weren't a lot of choices on where to go.  We found an open waterfront restaurant and ordered drinks. We were looking at the menu, when one of our Floridian friends asked "So, what's local?"

My husband and I looked at each other, looked again at the menu, and replied "Well . . . ."

Amazingly, the answer was "not much".  I'm sure there was a lobster dish of some kind (it is Maine), but other than that, we couldn't guarantee anything else was "local".  Maybe local as in, it came from the North Atlantic, but not local as in, it came from Maine.

It got me thinking about what local seafood is readily available in Maine.  The Gulf of Maine has changed enormously in the past 20 years, and the groundfish stocks that once supported huge fishing fleets have shrunk to a fraction of their former size.  Lobster is the only fishery reliably left in Maine, and if anything happens to it (as happened in 2012, the year of the great lobster glut) many fishing families will be in trouble.

Last weekend we stopped at one of our favorite fish markets, Harbor Fish Market in Portland, to find some local seafood.  Harbor Fish is what all fish markets should be.  It's right on the water, in the working waterfront portion of Portland, and boats pull right up behind the storefront to unload at times.  The place is spotlessly clean, smells nothing like fish, and it's packed, ensuring high turnover and fresh fish They're got it all, and they're happy to help you figure out what you need.  If anyone has local fish, surely they're the ones.

So what's local?  

Probably local.  From May-December Atlantic mackerel are commonly fished in the Gulf of Maine.  Most of it is exported because American's dislike its strong flavor.
Canadian; regional.  Smelt can be found in Maine's estuaries in winter and spring, and ice fishermen in our area love them.
Not local.  Despite what this signs says, most scup is caught south of the Gulf of Maine.
Regional.  A squid fishery is emerging in Maine, and may be aided by warming waters.  However, most squid is caught south of here.
Local.  Atlantic herring probably isn't what our visitor from Florida would have wanted though, as it's very strong in flavor.
Local (except for the ones from Wellfleet).  There's a lot of oysters available in Maine, both wild and cultured.  I hope to get up to the Damariscotta Oyster Festival to get a taste of them all! 
Not local.  Probably from the Chesapeake.
Local, but often from Prince Edward Island, and almost always cultured.
Local.  Mahogany clams are harvested in Maine.  They are very long lived (like 500 years) and reproduce slowly, which makes me reluctant to eat them.  You should never eat anything older than your grandmother.
Local, local, local.  Live lobster in the US is almost always from Maine.  Frozen lobster, like the lobster tails sold in chain restaurants and groceries, may be from Canada or may be US lobsters processed in Canada and re-imported.
Where's the fun in this?
Probably local.  Haddock stocks have recovered from low levels in the 1990's, and major stocks are located in the Gulf of Maine and George's Bank.
Maybe local.  Cod stocks are in trouble and the quota was drastically slashed this year.  Much of the cod sold in the US now is from Iceland, but since this is fresh not previously frozen, it might be local.
Maybe local.  In federal waters, halibut can only be landed incidentally, and only in small amounts.  Maine has a small experimental fishery in state waters but it isn't open in winter.
Not local.  In summer, maybe from Maine, but in winter, these are further south.
Local.  Seaweed culture and harvesting is a growing business in Maine.
Local.  Salmon aquaculture is expanding in Maine, and is well-established in Canadian waters.
We just tried some of this salmon bacon.  Pretty good!  However, it's from Miami.  Yes, Miami.
An empty shelf is all we can expect for Maine shrimp in 2014, and probably beyond that.  The fishery was closed due to low recruitment last year.  Very sad; they are a favorite of ours.
Local!  You're gonna want some dessert after that seafood, right?
A good source for basic information about fisheries is Fish Watch.  If you're interested in conservation biology, and which fish are sustainably harvested, I recommend Seafood Watch or a similar program.

Saturday we stopped by Harbor Fish and got ready for yesterday's snow storm.  As the snow came down, Damon, Dory, and I sat by the fire enjoying a nice big pot of paella, with mussels and haddock.  It was a great way to enjoy a winter's day.


  1. Lobsta' and Whoopie Pies..You got yourself a wicked good meal..

    1. You bet. Sounds like a good menu for New Year's!

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