MAINE, Maine — When COVID-19 hit, Maine fishermen lost a lot of business as restaurants shut down and sales from overseas slowed. At the same time, hunger in Maine became a big problem. That combination led to the creation of the nonprofit Maine Coast Fishermen's Association Fishermen Feeding Mainers program.
One of the ways the association is supporting the new program is through profits coming from the sales of its new monkfish stew.
The special seafood stew helps local fishermen and neighbors in need. The program kicked off during the pandemic to help those struggling with hunger while supporting Maine's fishermen.
To make the stew, the association buys the monkfish from Maine fishermen at a fair price, then it's all cut at Free Range Fish & Lobster in Portland, and is made into the stew by a food manufacturer out of Greene Hurricane's Premium Soup & Chowder.
"It's kind of a hidden gem. I think a lot of fishermen would tell you that it's great eating. I think the average person sees a monkfish, it's called the 'mother-in-law' fish for a reason," Cullen Burke of Free Range Fish & Lobster in Portland said.
Mary Hudson, director of fisheries programs for the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, said they chose to highlight monkfish to re-introduce this seafood option to Mainers in a tasty way.
"There is a very undersized market for it, locally. Most of the monkfish that the guys are catching are shipping over to South Korea and other places overseas," Hudson said. "So we really want to promote that seafood and try to get more of a local market and make people aware of monkfish. It's a very sustainable fishery. There is a lot of them out there. It's cleanly caught, and it's a very healthy protein."
Most of the money from sales goes right back to the community to help struggling fishermen and Mainers struggling through the pandemic.
"We decided to come up with a value-add product that promoted both local seafood that is often underutilized and undereaten in Maine and created our monkfish stew," Hudson explained. "If the prices are pretty low, I'll bid on the fish and make sure that the guys are getting a better price, and then that fish comes over here to free-range."
The stew includes Maine potatoes, carrots, cream, and lobster stock. It is for sale in 16-ounce and 24-ounce frozen packages that can be easily reheated and served right from the bag.
"It's pretty easy to sell because it tastes great and customers keep coming back for it," Burke said. "It comes in a bag that you can cook it right in, so a guy like me, I get home late from work, I just throw it in a pot of boiling water and 15 minutes later I've got dinner."
"We were seeing a lot of boats tied to the dock, all of the overseas and local markets were shut down for seafood so there was very little demand...and at the same time we were seeing the food insecurity in Maine skyrocket," Hudson said.
“The stew is a delicious combination of local vegetables in a light, creamy base with just a touch of spice, creating a dynamic and complex flavor profile that even those who have never tried monkfish can enjoy,” Phil Wilbur of Hurricane Soups said.
The Fishermen Feeding Mainers program has provided more than 400,000 meals throughout Maine.
The stew is available for purchase at the following locations:
Arundel: The Lobster Company
Greater Portland: Free Range Fish, Harbor Fish, Portland Food Co-op, Fork Food Lab, SoPo Seafood, Browne Trading Company
Freeport: Mainely Maine Seafood
Brunswick: Morning Glory Natural Foods, Brunswick Diner, Frontier Cafe
Harpswell: Iris Eats
Greene: Hurricane’s Premium Soups & Chowders
Gardiner: Maine Local Market
Bangor & Ellsworth: Dorr’s Lobster Market
Here is a map with all the locations where you can find and purchase the Monkfish Stew.