Building a Community Through Fisheries

United States | New Hampshire | Rye

In February 2012, New Hampshire fisherwoman Padi Anderson’s husband, Mike, was out trawling for scallops when he noticed an odd-shaped object jutting out from among the rocks, shells, and other debris in the net. Almost inexplicably, this object appeared to be a massive, fossilized tooth. International press quickly descended on the small fishing town to report this unusual discovery, and archaeology experts confirmed that the tooth had likely belonged to a wooly mammoth, and could be at least 10,000 years old. This story is remarkable on its own, but this spring it happened again, when Padi’s daughter, also out scallop fishing, pulled in a giant mastodon tooth with the day’s catch, estimated to be from about the same period. Perhaps more incredible than these discoveries, however, is that Padi Anderson doesn’t even consider them to be the coolest part of her job.

Padi has been involved in the fishing industry in Rye in many capacities since 1972, when she started a bait and tackle business based out of Rye Harbor. Since then, she has owned a number of businesses all centered on the water, from fishing supply and markets to running fishing Party Boats. Now, Padi and Mike have focused their attention, efforts, and formidable knowledge of the industry on their commercial fishing enterprise. In this role, Padi has become even more acutely aware of the emergent changes that are affecting New Hampshire’s fishing industry.

In Padi’s estimation, the only way to sustainably feed the earth’s growing population is to find a way in which both large-scale and small-scale food businesses can coexist in the market, each serving their unique purpose. Ideally, this would involve smaller scale, community-based boats working toward the goal of producing high quality, nutritious food at affordable prices. She fears that the current system does not properly value small producers who, due to their size, are more resilient and adaptable to change, a quality that is growing more important each year with the changing climate and weakening and changing fish stocks. Thus, Padi has created several initiatives to highlight for consumers and lawmakers alike the incredible value that small scale fishing businesses and coastal communities bring to the food system at large

Padi has taken on the massive, complex issue of fishing today with a determination and optimistic wisdom that could only have been forged from years on the sea. She has been at the forefront of the fishermen’s movement to reclaim a portion of the market, starting with direct sales of shrimp to customers off the side of her boat in Rye Harbor, giving consumers immediate access to fresh seafood caught locally. Now, Padi has her hand in several other projects, such as the New Hampshire Fish & Lobster Festival, otherwise known as the “Fishtival,” a unique and highly interactive event that draws thousands of visitors each year to celebrate 18 miles and 400 years of New Hampshire fishing communities and traditions, and Granite State Fish, a non-profit organization that she started in order to support local fishermen and build distribution networks in which locally caught fish is sold through markets nearby.

In addition, Padi works with schools, through the Fish to School program, and area hospitals, to incorporate locally caught seafood into students’ and patients’ meals, emphasizing its immense value as a protein and nutrient source. She and other community organizations have created a brand, “New Hampshire Fresh and Local”, which helps consumers identify fish products that have been sourced from her state’s short but rich coastline, and she has worked to develop and create local Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs-read more about what a CSF is here) programs to provide consumers with easy access to local seasonal catches. In the end, she believes that it all comes down to improving something she has termed “layers of access,” which can be understood in two symbiotic ways: both improving consumers’ access to good, healthy, locally raised foods at several points of the supply chain, and improving local producers’ access to portions of the market that were previously out of reach.

Padi now sells much more than just shrimp off of her boat, and has strengthened an entire community from that initial idea of direct-to-customer shrimp sales. Off-the-dock direct sales now include seasonal Scallops, Herring, Whiting, Squid and Butterfish, while promoting a ‘You catch it, we will eat it’ value to consumers. She has several regular customers who come from as far away as Boston and Vermont to buy from her, because they know and trust that she is selling them the highest quality products available. For her and Mike, this is most fun and rewarding part of their work (even more fun than finding ancient fossils!): to build a sense of community with her customers, to share her knowledge, and to educate consumers on the vital role that small-scale producers play in the current industrial food system. This is the pleasure, for them, of connecting with people through food, a pleasure which she fears has been lost in the United States.

In addition to branding their boat, Rimrack, the Andersons have created a website,, and a Facebook page, Rimrackfish, to both educate and provide real-time information for customers and interested community members. In this way, they are finding ways to use new media to support one of the oldest life-sustaining industries on earth. They also attend many relevant local events. Padi believes in building relationships with local fish dealers, restaurants, community organizations, and other businesses to promote similar messages advocating for the resiliency of fishermen, consumers and the community.

So what is her advice for conscious consumers? Be adventurous. Try to challenge yourself to try unfamiliar things, and in doing so, discover the real joy of eating well. And then, take some responsibility to inform yourself of the issues surrounding the food that you consume, and examine whether your personal values are reflected by the way that you eat. After all, as she points out, food that is fast, cheap, and easy comes at a very high price. Luckily, there is a way forward, and that is to improve access to locally sourced foods for all members of the community, in all parts of the food industry. In order to move forward, we’ve got to all work together. Good thing we have someone like Padi to help lead us.


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