What the Eff is a CSF?

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Huckleberry Bar in Williamsburg is one of four places in Brooklyn Village Fishmonger co-founder Samantha Lee passes out portions of fresh, sustainable seafood weekly to CSA members like Tal Safran. Photo: Village Fishmonger

Something about the limited amount of fresh, sustainable seafood in Brooklyn smelled fishy to Samantha Lee, Dennis O’Connor and Sean Dixon. The trio decided to put their own spin on that old proverb about giving a man a fish, by starting Village Fishmonger, a community supported fishery that functions like a CSA for seafood–a CSF.

“Seafood’s been this black hole where there’s only very few spots in the city that average consumers have access to,” says Lee, who lives in Brooklyn Heights. “It’s not a high-margin business, so I think it gets really hard for mom-and-pop stores to supply it, and people want the ability to choose something that’s not packaged in styrofoam and plastic at a national chain. It kind of just seemed like a problem that we could try and help solve.”

A variety of businesses based in and serving Brooklyn are dedicated to filling that sustainable seafood void. Sea to Table helps restaurants source good fish, and there are a variety of CSFs delivering fresh, sustainably-caught fish to our borough.

Village Fishmonger sources mainly finfish, but sometimes shellfish, from small fisherman co-ops off the coasts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey, and membership ranges from $90 to $360 for a 12-week commitment. Of its current 150 members, Lee says half pick up their fish at one of three Brooklyn sites–Huckleberry Bar, Choice Greene or Brooklyn Commune. A fourth pick-up spot opens tomorrow, April 2, at Four & Twenty Blackbirds. There are also six pick-up spots in Manhattan, and future CSF locations in Queens and the Bronx are a possibility.

CSFs like Village Fishmonger  can offer fresher catches of local, sustainable seafood than the average grocery store. Photo: Village Fishmonger

CSFs like Village Fishmonger can offer fresher catches of local, sustainable seafood than the average grocery store. Photo: Village Fishmonger

Gabe the Fish Babe, a small-scale, local fishing company in Rhode Island, is trying to shorten Brooklyn’s supply chain to responsibly sourced seafood through its Fish Club. Membership in the Brooklyn chapter costs $180 for four weeks or $360 for eight weeks and comes with weekly shares of one bag of shellfish (think oysters, crabs, scallops, mussels, steamers and squid) and 1.5 pounds of finfish. There are eight pick-up spots in Brooklyn, and GTFB also does home delivery.

Mermaid’s Garden runs a CSF with seven Brooklyn pick-up sites and no membership commitment. People pay per pick-up for either a half share (1-1.25 pounds for $16.50) or a full share (2-2.25 pounds for $33) of filleted fish, as well as shellfish and whole fish when in season.

There are 20 to 30 different species of seafood living in our local waters in any given season and very few of those ever make it onto restaurant menues, Lee explains. Variety, she says, is another reason aside from wanting to be responsible seafood consumers people join CSFs.

“People really want to do good, but a lot of the motivation to join this kind of program is also just to be adventurous with your palate and really explore what’s available out there,” she says. “People look to us to introduce them to new species–how to handle them, how to cook them–and I think we’ve seen really good reactions.”

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4 Comment

  • I’ve had a pretty excellent experience with Mermaid’s Garden over the past several months. The fish is incredibly fresh and has been delicious every week. There is no good place to get fresh fish at a grocery store or fishmonger near me, so having this access has been great for my diet. The prices are better than other sustainably caught seafood I’ve seen (like Whole Foods) and roughly comparable to the fishmonger at the mccarren farmer’s market (often cheaper, sometimes more expensive on certain items).

    The operators have had great customer service when I’ve gone on vacation and need to put it on hold, and they keep sending good recipes for the week’s selection. It’s gotten me to try things that would have been intimidating, like razor clams, and shucking my own oysters, while becoming pretty handy with weeknight meals involving a quickly broiled filet.

  • Mermaid’s garden is nothing short of game changing. Not only is the buying experience smooth and enjoyable (both Mark and Bianca are great), but we love learning about the fish, knowing that it is sustainably fished and thoughtfully selected, and getting recipes from Mark that match the fish of the week so well. You can’t get fish like this easily anywhere around here. Friday used to be the night to look forward to, but now it’s Thursday night (aka fish night)…delicious.

  • We love Mermaid’s Garden. I look forward to reading the mid week “special items” email that appear in my email inbox. It may be Montauk Pearl Oysters, or dayboat sea scallops, or Florida stone crab claws just to name a few. Mark & Bianca are amazing, not only telling us about the seafood ( the latin species name, and who caught it and where included)-we also get recipe options. There is almost nothing better than picking up oysters on Saturday and sharing them with friends and a crisp Rose. And yes, thanks to them i can now shuck oysters (slowly with a towel of course…)

    Our kids eat more fish as well, and that is a super added bonus!

  • Ditto to Meghan’s comments. Mermaid’s Garden has changed the way we eat, the way we look at fish and the way we look at the way fish are made available for our consumption. But best of all, it’s just damn delicious. Thank you Mark and Bianca.