Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs)

Community supported fisheries (CSFs) are modeled after community supported agriculture (CSAs) programs where consumers pay farmers in advance and receive a set amount of produce on a preset schedule. With a CSF, the consumer pays for a certain amount of seafood in advance (buying a ‘subscription’ or a ‘share’), and one or more fishermen provide each consumer with his or her ‘share’ of the catch on a pre-arranged schedule over a specified period of time. CSFs allow fishermen to provide customers with less familiar (non-traditional) products. They also often include an educational component, sharing recipes and educational materials regarding fishing and fisheries with their customers.

CSF Design

CSFs vary widely in the specifics of their design: 

  • Subscription (share) price and pricing structure
  • Type and amount of seafood provided
  • Frequency of deliveries
  • Method of delivery (one or more pick-up or drop-off locations, days and times)
  • Number of fishermen participating (one to many)
  • Who coordinates the program (fisherman, family member or friend, other community member)

How you design your CSF often comes down to whether:

  • You have what consumers want or will try
  • Product can be provided continually for a specified period of time
  • You need a third party for various tasks (e.g., packaging, delivery)

To evaluate whether this type of alternative market is an option for you, explore the benefits and challenges (in addition to those on the Considerations page), key questions, tips and resources in the boxes below.

Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs)

Benefits and Challenges

  • Sales happen before you fish, allowing you to plan your fishing to meet orders
  • You have a set customer base for a specified period of time
  • Advanced cash flow helps cover expenses as you go
  • Use of pick-up location(s) minimizes transportation time and costs
  • Opportunity to sell less familiar products
  • Allows flexibility to provide customers with what is abundant rather than what is in demand; you choose the types and quantities to offer in subscriptions
  • Opportunity to brand your product or business, enhancing product recognition and sales
  • You control product quality if you are the only person handling your product until it is in the hands of the consumer
  • Face-to-face interactions with customers allow you to: 
    • educate them
    • obtain their feedback
    • build long-term relationships with them, which may provide support when needed
  • May initially take time to establish pick-up location(s) that are convenient for you and your customers
  • Requires developing a customer base that pays up front 
  • May require working with additional fishermen to provide a diversity of products and/or to ensure consistent supply, to meet customer demands
  • Processing into portions, fillets or steaks likely needed to meet customer demand, requiring additional resources (financial, human, physical) and/or arrangements with a processor or seafood market
  • Weather and mechanical difficulties can disrupt ability to provide seafood for scheduled deliveries
  • If the CSF is run by a third-party, the connection between fishermen and customers may be limited
  • Customer service can be time consuming:
    • maintaining communications
    • responding to individuals’ needs
    • managing diverse expectations
Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs)

Key Questions

Here are some questions to ask yourself and others about the operations of and personal considerations for this market type. Contact proper authorities to obtain up-to-date information and specific requirements for your business.

  • If other CSFs are marketing the same product, will the demand be enough to support you and the others?
  • If product variety is desired, are there other fishermen or an established CSF that you could partner with?
  • What commitment, including labor, supplies, equipment and product, does a CSF require?
    • Are you able to meet these requirements?
    • If you have more product than is needed for the CSF, what is your plan for selling the remaining catch?
  • Do you have the proper equipment and supplies for maintaining safe, high quality product while handling, holding and selling it? 

  • Do you need to process your catch? If so, what additional facilities, supplies, equipment, personnel and permits are needed?

    • How will you address additional seafood safety issues? What kind of control measures, monitoring procedures and records are needed to document the use of safe handling practices?

  • What are your options for pick-up sites? Can you coordinate delivery with another seafood or agricultural alternative market? 
Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs)


Consult with resource management, public health and business authorities before selling your seafood. In some states, requirements for selling to the public are different from those for selling to retailers, chefs and other food service providers (see Permits and More).


  • If processing is required, consider working with a seafood processor or fish market to share space or contract with them for those services.
  • Consider including fishermen and their products from multiple fisheries and/or ports to guard against potential supply shortfalls and limitations.
  • Consider including a seasonal break in your CSF subscription period (perhaps switching to another alternative market) when fishing slows, weather is typically bad or you need to prepare your boat for a fishery opener.
  • Provide or have customers bring a cooler or insulated bag with ice or ice packs to maintain safe, high quality product during transport.
  • Consider working with local aquaculturists to obtain product when wild-caught product is not available or to complement the products you offer.
  • For CSFs with multiple fishermen, stress the need for everyone to maintain a high quality, safe product to support the high value of the product.
  • Consider reaching out to fishermen's groups and other non-profit organizations for help with the resources (human, financial, physical) needed to start a CSF.
  • Develop a website by yourself or through a third party (see eMarkets) to handle certain business functions (e.g., subscriptions, payments, pickups and deliveries). 


  • Regularly check in with your customers. Use a short survey to ask for their feedback on service, quality and variety to help improve and maintain your CSF.
  • Be flexible and ready to make changes as needed to better accommodate customer needs. For example, some CSFs have increased the flexibility of their share options by adding delivery options or extending the subscription period. 
  • Start by offering pilot subscriptions to friends and family to minimize start-up costs and learn as you go.
  • Describe how your pricing reflects the high quality of your product and service.
  • Develop a back-up plan and/or incorporate product flexibility into share options in case product is not available as scheduled. Clearly communicate your plan to customers.
  • Consider developing a CSF for employees of larger local businesses, schools, hospitals, or other institutions.
  • Consider providing recipes and information about your catch with product notifications and/or deliveries.
Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs)


CSF Bait Box: Fishermen's Guide to Community Supported Fisheries.
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.
CSF Financial Forecasting Tool (Draft).
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.
CSF Profitability and Pricing Calculator
NC Sea Grant.
Laying a Solid Foundation for Community Supported Fisheries
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Brief online description of CSFs, challenges and opportunities identified during the May-June 2012 National Summit on CSFs.
Local Catch: A Network of Community Supported Fisheries.
An online network of community supported fisheries (CSFs) and related interests that links consumers to CSFs, seeks to increase the visibility of CSFs and provide assistance to individuals and organizations in envisioning, designing, and implementing CSFs.
Local Catch Roundtable
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
National Summit on Community Supported Fisheries: Building a network, identifying challenges, and opportunities, & defining next steps
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
Resources for Fishermen.
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA). Information on and links to resources useful for CSFs (e.g., a sample CSF contract) and for direct marketing more generally (e.g., shrimp preparation handout, information about regulatory agencies for some states).
Starting and Maintaining CSF Programs
National Sea Grant Law Center.
TAA Community Supported Fisheries.Video and handout.
University of MN Center for Farm Financial Management.
Tips for Selling through CSAs
ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

Additional permits and other documentation usually are needed to establish an alternative market. Be sure to consult with resource management, public health and business authorities before selling your seafood.

Information provided on this page was synthesized from interviews with fishermen and buyers, and from the Fishermen’s Direct Marketing Manual, the Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook, ATTRA publications, and other resources (see About this Website and Resources).