A few times a month, a long line of people—subscribers to the Walking Fish community supported fishery program—arrive in Durham and Raleigh with a sizeable cooler, which makes a nice place to rest during the wait.
A truck arrives from Carteret County—180 miles each way—with a cargo of seafood, most of which was still swimming in the waters near Beaufort that morning. The line snakes a good distance, and it can take as long as two hours for the truck to unload its catch.
About 400 people subscribe to Walking Fish. These days, coolers leave the parking lot laden with black sea bass, shrimp, oysters, mackerel (both King and Spanish), clams, crabs and croaker. Yes, the ocean has its own seasonal food offerings just like the land. The triggerfish will not be back until next summer. During the cooler months, you can purchase your own crab pot, from which you are guaranteed a minimum of 36 blue crabs, along with a video of a fisherman hauling your trap.
Walking Fish began in 2009 as a project by graduate students at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. In 2011 it was incorporated into Walking Fish, one of the few CSFs around the country, said Walking Fish coordinator Debbie Callaway.
Modeled after a community supported agriculture program, it's as if the "A" in CSA stands for "aquaculture." Around a dozen fishermen contribute to the CSF, bringing in enough seafood to make deliveries for three 12-week sessions throughout the year. Members can opt for weekly or biweekly deliveries, and either have the catch simply headed and gutted or pay a bit more to have the fish filleted. A full share weighs 4 pounds, a half share around 2, and the prices range from $114 for a biweekly, minimally processed half-share to $516 for a full 12-week order of filleted fish.
Walking Fish is about more than simply carting fish on a refrigerated truck inland, Callaway says. Its mission is threefold: enrich the traditional coastal communities by improving economic opportunities; foster the relationship between the state's rural and urban areas; and practice and encourage ethical ecological stewardship.
It's this last bit that seems to matter most to local chefs. Not only is seafood healthier when it's caught ethically—wild-caught salmon, for example, is less likely to be contaminated with PCBs than farmed—but also it feels satisfying to support the practice.
Amy Tornquist, chef/owner of Watts Grocery, has been using Walking Fish as a supplier for years, but she recently went a step further and hosted a "Strange Seafood" dinner in which the first course began with a sea asparagus and tomato salad.
"I like using fish like hand-gigged flounder. There really is no lower impact than a fish caught by a guy and his gig," Tornquist says. Gigging is essentially spearing fish rather than trolling with a net. This virtually eradicates the risk of any bycatch, or fish that are unintentionally caught.
Walking Fish and Tornquist raised some $1,500 from that meal for Saltwater Connections, a nonprofit aimed at improving sustainability for communities along the state's central coastline. This past spring, Walking Fish was awarded a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that allowed Callaway, along with some local fisherman, to travel north to learn about other fishing communities.
The Walking Fish website has an extensive list of recipes, videos from the coast, fishermen profiles, a members forum and more. You can still sign up for a fall membership. You can get a prorated rate for the rest of the season, which runs through Dec. 10. (No delivery during Thanksgiving week.) Prices vary depending on the quantity (2–4 pounds), frequency (weekly or biweekly) and preparation (filleted or just headed and gutted).
Pick up sites:
• Duke Gardens parking lot—Thursdays 4–6 p.m.
• Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church parking lot, 2723 Clark Ave.—Tuesdays 3–4 p.m.
• Duke Raleigh Hospital, P1 South Parking Garage, lower level entrance—Tuesdays 4:45–5:15 p.m.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Walk the walk."