By Hadley Barndollar, Contributing Writer
Seacoast folks love their fish. This is nothing new. Amanda Parks ’14 grew up her whole life as one of these seafood aficionados — only she took it a step further. Parks developed the idea to bring New Hampshirites closer than ever to their beloved food from the ocean through a mobile app.
The app, called Local Fish Finder, debuted in the Apple store in early September. It gives the Seacoast access to the freshest seafood as well as information on local fishermen, seafood season charts, species information and culinary tips and recipes.
“One of my biggest hopes with the app was to familiarize people with all of the fish our boats bring in,” Parks said. “We too often stick to only a few species of fish, which is likely due to habit and comfort. By listing recipes and cooking methods for over 20 species, I hope that people will start asking their markets for some of the under-loved or underutilized fish.”
After studying ecogastronomy at the University of New Hampshire, which emphasized the concept of local food communities and sustainability, Parks saw the importance of buying local and purchasing within the Seacoast.
“Instead of going to chain grocery markets that buy fish outside of the state, I want people to go support the local fish markets, CSFs [community-supported fisheries] or right from the boat itself.”
Parks’ love for food and cooking was truly homegrown, calling the Food Network her channel of choice when she was younger and referencing memories of recreating recipes with her parents in the kitchen. It was in high school when Parks’ interest in food paired itself with a passion for environmental issues.
After specifically picking UNH for its dual major program that let her pair ecogastronomy with nutrition, Parks discovered a niche that needed to be filled while living off campus.
“It wasn’t until a couple of summers ago when I was off-campus cooking for myself when I struggled with knowing what to buy for seafood,” Parks said. “I was always hesitant on stories from the news or in classes about ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ seafood choices. This is when I learned about New Hampshire Community Seafood, a community-supported fishery program based in Portsmouth. They are part of a growing movement both nationally and internationally that uses the same framework as community-supported agriculture [CSA].”
Parks described the program as a system where consumers buy into an eight-week season designating how many pounds of fish they would like each week. Then, New Hampshire Community Seafood would deliver fish on a weekly basis to about a dozen or so locations from the Seacoast to as far as Manchester and beyond. This ensured freshness and localness.
Parks was immediately drawn to the program and did not hesitate to get involved. After her first delivery of fish, Parks had a goal in mind.
“I excitedly signed up for the program, enjoying that I could buy fish that came right from our local [New Hampshire] fishermen and also that it included abundant local species that are often not to be found at the grocery store,” Parks said. “I can honestly say after the first delivery of fish — cusk to be exact — I became extremely passionate on preserving our local fishing heritage now and for the future.”
What was it about food, specifically seafood, that resonated so much with Parks? Her answer was quite simple.
“It’s all about the people,” Parks said. “Too often we see food as a traded commodity; simply objects for fuel. However, I feel that it is so important to start looking into the stories of the food and the producers that devote their energy into creating these products.”
All of this led to a culmination of Parks’ passions, sparking the idea for the mobile fish app. She molded it during her Ecogastronomy capstone project, winning first place in the department at the Undergraduate Research Conference in 2014.
This led to her sending in an application for one of the 2014 Doyle Fellowships offered through New Hampshire Sea Grant for a paid summer fellowship. Parks received the grant to launch the app alongside some other great seafood related projects. The opportunity allowed her to take the blueprints and turn them into a reality.
“I have no background in computer programming, so I had to research online tools and programs that allow for app creation without coding,” Parks said, referring to the technical aspect of creating the app.
“I finally found a great program that worked for me and allowed me to create my app as similar to my designed blueprint as possible,” she said. “Within a few weeks of waiting, I received emails from both stores (Google Store and Apple) saying it had been approved and was ready for download. Now I can track how many people download the app and how many times it has been opened. Right now the app has over 500 downloads.”
Having created such a culinary feat, Parks still has hopes for the app to go a step further.
“I hope to extend this app out to other communities from Cape Cod, New Orleans, Portland, Oregon, to whichever communities out there want to highlight their local fisheries. Instead of controlling everything from one location, I want to create a framework for the app that can be accessed by organizers from any community to input the data from their area.”
Erik Chapman, Parks’ adviser for the project and a commercial fisheries specialist for the New Hampshire Sea Grant, recognized Parks’ idea as filling a niche.
“Amanda’s concept for the local fish finder is an innovative, real-world solution to a critical problem facing fishing communities,” Chapman said. “The power of connecting fishermen to consumers is incredible—our food system disconnects us almost completely from our harvesters and producers — when that reconnection is made, both fishermen and consumers feel great and they realize what they have been missing.”
Chapman said Parks has made a unique impact and has enjoyed watching her journey.
“It’s been inspirational to see her make things happen so quickly for herself and to see the benefits move outward from there into her community.”
Lately, Parks has surely not slowed down in her work and efforts. She recently traveled to Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy, as a U.S. delegate at the Slow Fish conference. It is only a matter of time before Local Fish Finder becomes a national app.