Perfectly good fish are caught every day and thrown right back into the water, so a first-of-its-kind volunteer pilot program is looking to reduce this waste and deliver fresh fish to the New Jersey residents who need it most.

Fulfill, formerly The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, is about a month in to a partnership that's allowing them to get their hands on fish that boaters would otherwise throw overboard or in the trash, and instead distribute the much needed protein to its network of more than 275 pantries, soup kitchens and women's shelters in the region.

"It's something that the commercial fishermen are all in on, because they hate to throw away good fish that they simply can't sell," said Fulfill CEO and President Kim Guadagno. "When they come back from their fishing during the day, they throw it in the locker at the end of the dock."

Then Lakewood-based Trinity Seafood picks up the fish from the insulated coolers, and takes it to be processed and packaged, before Fulfill transports the fish back to its distribution center in Neptune, Guadagno said.

"We are excited to be part of this groundbreaking program," said Mike Carson, president of Trinity Seafood. "We are pleased to be able to utilize our facility, capabilities, and expertise to make this happen."

This is the nation's first wholly volunteer effort to lean on gleaning freshly caught seafood for the hungry. The gleaning process — collecting excess fresh food — is typically seen at farms and restaurants.

Launched in August, the New Jersey Seafood Gleaning Pilot Program has already handled a variety of rays. The chef at St. Mark's Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen in Keansburg, among the first to receive the ray fish, included it in an Italian fish stew and said it was very well received.

The program also anticipates receiving sea robins and squid.

The pilot project was made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Tyson Foods Protein Innovation Fund. Guadagno said that grant will be gone by the end of the year, but Fulfill plans to continue the program and hopes it catches on nationwide.

According to the nonprofit America's Gleaned Seafood, 420 million meals per year could be served to the nation's food insecure if just 1% of commercial fishermen in the continental United States were to participate in The Seafood Gleaning Program.

"New Jersey is setting the course for fishermen and food banks around the country to work together to feed the hungry," the nonprofit said.

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