Our Heroes: Bianca Piccillo & Mark Usewicz of Mermaid's Garden Community Supported Fishery

Photo courtesy of Mermaid's Garden

Bianca Piccillo and her husband Mark Usewicz manage Mermaid's Garden (MG), a community supported fishery and sustainable seafood market based in Brooklyn, NY (find MG in our Eat Well Guide). Blending their respective training, knowledge and experiences, Bianca and Mark co-founded MG whose mission is to offer "impeccably fresh, fully traceable sustainable seafood." They take tremendous pride in being able to tell their customers where and how each fish was caught. In addition to working in laboratories at the University of Maryland and Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, Bianca has conducted marine biological field research in some incredible places like the Sea of Cortez, Belize, Papua New Guinea and the Red Sea. She also spent some time working at a few cherished restaurants honing her culinary skills. Mark, following culinary school, had the honor of training under Chef Alain Senderens, a leading French chef who is credited as one of the founders of Nouvelle Cuisine. More recently he served as Executive Chef at the historic Montauk Club and Palo Santo Comedor y Bar de Vino in Park Slope.

Tell me about Mermaid's Garden and how the idea for it came about?

My husband Mark was trained as a chef, I was trained as an ichthyologist (fish biologist.) We both worked in restaurants for many years - he on his career track, me as a PhD program dropout. When it came time to think seriously about a business of our own we decided that rather than open a restaurant we might combine our talents in a slightly different way...MG is the result of that thinking.

What is a Community Sponsored Fishery (CSF)?

A CSF is a model that links fishermen to local markets. Traditionally members paid fishermen in advance for a share of their catch. There are a lot of CSF's that still work this way, and now there are also models like ours, where MG works more like a middle man between fishermen and members.  

What are the benefits of joining a CSF?

CSFs offer greater quality, value and transparency than most traditional retail models.

We emphasize fish from small boat domestic fishermen in our CSF and retail shop because we think supporting our US local fishing communities is really important.

What does sustainable seafood mean to you?

To us, seafood is sustainable when it comes from well-managed populations that aren't overfished or subject to overfishing; seafood that's caught or farmed using methods that minimize their environmental impact. We emphasize fish from small boat domestic fishermen in our CSF and retail shop because we think supporting our US local fishing communities is really important. They represent jobs and a culture that have been pretty devastated, and we lose them at our shared peril. So we look at things from both the perspective of the seafood and the people who catch/grow the seafood.

What kind of fish and shellfish are offered as part of the CSF?

[Our CSFers] see a variety of local Long Island and New England fishes year round, including: Acadian Redfish, Black Bass, Bluefish, Haddock, Hake, Mahi Mahi, Monkfish, Pollock, Porgy, Spanish Mackerel, Striped Bass, Summer Flounder, Swordfish, Tilefish, Tuna and more. CSF customers are also frequently offered sustainably raised or caught shellfish, like mussels, oysters and clams.

Where else in the country/world is the CSF model taking root?

There are quite a few CSF's across the country and in Canada that I'm aware of. You can see them all at localcatch.org.

How does a CSF benefit coastal communities and ecology/environment?

If you don't use it, you lose it. And if we lose that heritage we're left with giant corporate boats that empty our oceans indiscriminately. Small boat fishermen use less fuel, catch less by catch and employ more people than large scale operators, most highly documented in the research of Jennifer Jacquet and Daniel Pauly.

What has surprised you the most doing this work?

How loosely the term "sustainable" gets bandied about. While people can and do define the term in lots of different ways I've definitely seem some appropriation that is more than a bit of a stretch.

Who and/or what inspires you?

Our mentors, our members and our families.

What's the one food you can't do without?

We'd be in a tough position without fish.

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