When it comes to fishing off the state coastline, one person’s illegal catch often becomes another person’s freshly-cooked dinner.
After Massachusetts Environmental Police on Sunday busted a fisherman with a batch of undersized fish, they brought his 45-pound catch of haddock, grey sole, and monkfish to Pine Street Inn so workers there could serve up a feast.
Officials from the shelter said the donation means a healthy meal option for guests at the inn that the organization otherwise couldn’t afford. It also teaches vital food preparation skills to the homeless as they seek employment and prepare to leave the shelter.
“This donated fish provides an excellent source of protein,” said Frank van Overbeeke, Pine Street Inn’s executive chef, in a statement. “Many guests at Pine Street Inn have a variety of health issues and we have incorporated a ‘healthy eating initiative,’ which features whole grains and meals low in sugar and salt.”
Major Patrick Moran, chief of the state environmental police’s coastal bureau, said the department’s ultimate goal is to always return an illegal catch — whether it be fish or shellfish — to the ocean, if the marine animals can be spared.
But in the event that the fish have already died, environmental officials will do their best to donate them to local shelters or charities. Donations are made on a case-by-case basis, he said, and depend on the condition of the catch.
“Instead of wasting it and throwing it away, we are trying to feed the needy,” said Moran, who has been with the department for 33 years. “We try to give everybody a slice of the pie. If it’s not Pine Street Inn that day, it’s going to be another shelter in Boston.”
He added, “it doesn’t get better than fresh fish.”
Moran said officers stationed at the Boston Fish Pier on Sunday conducted an inspection of a multi-species fishing trip off-load, a standard procedure carried out by police at major fishing ports up and down the coast.
When the officers determined the fish were smaller than allowed under state law, they issued a citation to the vessel’s captain and then brought the confiscated haul to the homeless shelter in the South End.
Van Overbeeke, the chef there, said environmental police have contacted him several times in the last year to ask if they could make use of an illegal catch.
Last month, the shelter benefited from fish confiscated from an Asian market that didn’t have a permit to sell the seafood.
In September, Pine Street Inn, one of Boston’s largest shelters, was given tuna that police took from a boat at sea, he said. The kitchen prepared the tuna for the men’s shelter that night, “and it went over quite well.”
And the tuna, he added, was more than just a meal. Because Pine Street Inn teaches food service skills to men and women transitioning out of homelessness, the fish became a classroom tool.
“It also gave us an opportunity to use it to teach our students how to clean and filet a fish,” van Overbeeke said.Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.