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USM celebrates health and sustainability with local fish

The University of Southern Maine’s dining operations celebrating their success in a three-year, ocean-to-table initiative, achieving a goal of sourcing 100 percent Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested white fish.

With the success comes a new designation: “champions” in the Gulf of Maine Research Institute seafood program.

And it all began with a student effort.

Students in a Food Studies class — led by Assistant Professor Jamie Picardy — began looking at where the food came from that was served on USM’s three campuses by provider Sodexo. The class surveyed about 500 students, faculty and staff. 

“These surveys indicted that our students and our community wants seafood,” Picardy said. “We learned that we appreciate local seafood, and we’re willing to pay for it.”

The research led Sodexo to increase it’s purchases.

Over the past two years, Sodexo at USM has shifted from buying fish imported from other parts of the world to purchasing fish like Atlantic pollock and Acadian redfish from the Gulf of Maine region. USM Dining Services increased Gulf of Maine seafood offerings three-fold, contributing an additional $10,551 per semester into the regional fisheries economy.

As the food has become more available, students are eating more fish, Executive Chef Ginny Jordan said.

“It’s incredible to see how the shift towards local sourcing has increased the seafood consumption in our student population,” she said.

The effects reach well beyond the USM campuses.

“This has a direct ecological and economical impact in our community,” Picardy said.

By sourcing less well-known species, USM is helping to drive demand for a broader range of abundant, responsibly harvested species from the Gulf of Maine. This, in turn, gives fishermen more options and helps to build stronger economies in the region’s coastal communities. 

Leaders from USM, Sodexo and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute gathered on Oct. 29 at the newly renovated Brooks Dining Hall on the Gorham campus. They ate hake and pollock tacos prepared by Jordan and her staff.

To Aaron Witham, USM’s sustainability director, the move is about helping students while supporting the local Maine economy and the environment.

“The intersection of economics and environmentalism is critical here in the Gulf of Maine, because climate change and pollution and loss of biodiversity affects all of the plants and animals off our coast. And in turn, this affects Mainers’ jobs and livelihoods,” Witham said.