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ACT OF KINDNESS

Doing a lot of a good with haddock chowder

The chowder.
The chowder.Meg Wilcox

Massachusetts fishermen have struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic, as restaurants — their main market — have closed or scaled back. Less demand for seafood means fishermen get paid less for their catch, or worse, they can’t sell it. That’s led some to make the painful decision to forgo fishing.

Now, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance has found a way to keep fishermen on the water while also helping local families in need keep food on their tables.

Haddock chowder.

With philanthropic support from Catch Invest, the fishermen’s alliance will pay fishermen a fair, predictable price for haddock, making it worth their while to harvest the fish. The alliance will also pay a Dorchester fish processor, Great Eastern Seafood, to fillet the fish, and a Lowell soup company, Plenus Group, to produce the chowder, which it will donate to Massachusetts food banks.

Starting Monday, Aug. 17, chowder frozen in 18-ounce containers will be provided to four Massachusetts food banks. The first donation includes 18,720 containers, providing about 56,000 individual servings. All told, some 100,000 pounds of haddock will be donated through the program.

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“With food insecurity increasing 53 percent in Massachusetts as a result of COVID-19, any additional product is crucial right now,” said Catherine Drennan, communications and public affairs director of the Greater Boston Food Bank, adding, “We deal a lot with frozen, chowder soups and know that our clients like it.”

Captain Eric Hesse is a member of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance.
Captain Eric Hesse is a member of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance.Cape Cod Fishermen's Alliance

Hearty, yet light, the chowder recipe features 25 percent locally caught haddock, potatoes, celery and onions, and milk sourced from New England dairy farms. Most chowders typically use only 10 to 15 percent fish, according to Seth Rolbein, director of the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust and coordinator for the effort. “But we felt very strongly we wanted to increase that, and make a really great chowder.”

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“Our big hope is to help with food security,” said Rolbein, while also supporting Cape Cod’s historic small-boat, independent, fishing fleet.

After the initial donation, the alliance plans to introduce the chowder to retail outlets under the brand name Small Boats, Big Taste to raise revenue to keep the program self-sustaining.

The fishermen's alliance hopes that the brand will gain recognition, like Newman's brand, as a product that's celebrated for both its quality and mission of feeding hungry families and keeping fishermen on the water, said Rolbein.

The chowder's label.
The chowder's label.Meg Wilcox

Other kinds of chowders, including quahog or oyster stew, could be added to the line based on the needs of local fishermen and the availability of product.

The Plenus Group, maker of Herban Fresh, a soup line that supports local agriculture, and Boston Chowda, sees potential in Small Boats, Big Taste. “We’re hoping it takes off and are looking forward to growing it along with the fishermen’s alliance,” said Michael Jolly, Plenus’s marketing director. “It’s a great product, with a great story.”

So this fall when the air turns crisp, look for Small Boats, Big Taste chowder in stores, and warm both your belly and your heart.