Our Planet
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  A new, ethical way to buy fish – from the fisherman
When did you last get friendly with a fisherman? As their numbers dwindle around the country, the answer, for many of us, may be "never". Jack Clarke wants to change that. The marine biologist is on a mission to put small scale fishermen back at the hearts of their communities and help us get better acquainted with the people who catch what we eat.

With the backing of Defra and ocean conservation group Seaweb, he is this week launching Catchbox – the UK's first community fish co-operative – initially in Brighton and Chichester, then hopefully nationwide. The scheme links local fishermen with customers, helping consumers to eat more seasonally and ethically and giving some much-needed financial security to a group whose centuries-old livelihoods are under threat.

It's already possible to order fresh fish boxes from online retailers, but the not-for-profit Catchbox invites members to play a more active role: customers pay a £10 joining fee and decide how much fish they want over the course of the 12-week season. If they choose a kilo a week – which costs £6 – they'll pay a fee of £82 upfront. Some weeks the catch will be worth more than £6 a kilo, some weeks, under. Catchbox guarantees the fishermen £5 of that £6, meaning a regular wage whatever they bring in with no risk of a sudden drop in a fish's market value.

While it isn't the cheapest way to buy fish, as Clarke says, "it's an experience rather than a product." He wants to continue work that others have started in educating people about waste. Thanks to campaigns from the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall , who's a vocal supporter of Catchbox,concerned consumers are already getting reacquainted with plentiful but less popular fish such as cuttlefish, gurnard and scud – so-called "ugly fish" –and Catchbox builds on these principles. Members will get their salmon and seabass, but can try less familiar species too. Clarke says he'll be on hand at the weekly collection point (there's no delivery) to offer advice on preparation. and their website will encourage members to share recipes, videos and experiences. Those who volunteer in the running of the cooperative will get additional benefits such as knife skills workshops or fishing trips.

"By the end of this first 12-week season, we want people to know how to gut and cook their fish. We want them to have become familiar with lots of varieties."

Similar schemes have been running for more than five years in the US, including Fresh Catch in Port Clyde, Maine and Cape Ann, near Boston. Community-supported agriculture is a hot topic in the US. "In tiny towns in the middle of nowhere, the whole place would go down the toilet if the fishing industry died," says Clarke. "They realised they had to do something."

In Brighton, traditional inshore fishing is an integral part of the city's heritage, and already under threat from modern trawlers offering huge quantities of fish at a price small enterprises can't compete with. Line-catching is more ethical but it's becoming an increasingly unviable way to make a living, says Peter Williams, who fishes out of Emsworth and will be supplying the Chichester Catchbox scheme.

Williams fishes for about 12 hours each day and takes his catch to a wholesaler who sells it on to restaurants and supermarkets. At market, he will often find a "super-trawler" has pushed down the price. By joining Catchbox, he knows he will get a fair price.

"You're not going to save the world by using Catchbox but you'll know your money is going to local fishermen rather than a global supermarket chain," says Clarke. "You'll know exactly where your food has come from and that it's been responsibly, sustainably fished. We've seen communities club together to save post offices and pubs. Now it's time to work together to save our fishing industry."
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