Science and community unite to provide healthy protein to underserved

June 25, 2018

Today, United Way of Central Maryland, McCormick’s Flavor for Life® program, the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) and JJ McDonnell joined together to announce the FISH Project, a collaboration between these local organizations that will positively impact the health of the central Maryland region. The group of local organizations gathered at Baltimore’s Franciscan Center, where guests of the center were served a healthy, bronzini lunch as part of this important initiative.

A first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, the FISH (Feeding Individuals to Support Health) Project will specifically aim to provide area residents living in underserved communities across the region with access to healthy, high quality sources of protein. In central Maryland, more than 319,000 people don’t have access to healthy food*. When families don’t have nutritious food, it is more difficult for them to work toward becoming self-sufficient. Additionally, it’s likely that low-income families already struggle to afford food. The average Maryland SNAP (food stamps) benefit awarded is just $30 per week, per person — and typically the cheapest grocery options are not the healthiest.

“In many of the communities we represent, individuals and families do not have access or the financial means to purchase healthy food, like fish,” said Franklyn Baker, president and CEO, United Way of Central Maryland. “Helping at-risk families become successful is at the heart of our work — and to achieve this, we believe it is critical for these families to obtain healthy, affordable food. The goal of this program is to not only break down the barrier to accessing nutritious protein-based foods, but to instill the importance of healthy eating to sustain healthy living. This is a major fight for us, and this project is a huge step in helping us win this fight in our local communities.”

The partnership includes scientists from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and UMBC who are conducting aquaculture research at IMET to develop the next generation of environmentally sustainable methods for farming marine fish for commercial importance. The FISH Project is currently growing and harvesting bronzini, a Mediterranean sea bass that can be easily prepared using olive oil and seasonings such as garlic, various herbs, sea salt and pepper, and roasted in an oven, stovetop or grill. Future growth and harvest cycles could include shrimp — and be harvested and distributed as early as December of this year.

“These bronzini were grown in IMET’s Aquaculture Research Center using advanced technology that ensures healthy, nutritious fish produced in a totally sustainable way with no release of pollution to the environment,” said Dr. Russell Hill, Director of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. “It is just one example of the important work that we are doing at IMET to provide new solutions to challenges around food, energy, human health and environmental sustainability and to be sure that our science does not just stay in our laboratories but goes out to be used in useful ways in the community.”

United Way of Central Maryland is the organizer of partners involved in this unique project, which focuses on leveraging each partner’s expertise, thought leadership and connections in their community to provide nutritious, high-quality fish to neighbors who would otherwise not have access.

“UMBC is proud to be part of this important collaboration, applying scientific innovation in aquaculture to offer a healthy source of food for our local communities," said Freeman Hrabowski, president, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

JJ McDonnell will be providing processing and distribution services for The FISH Project. The company will be distributing fish to partner nonprofits that reach the underserved community directly, like the Franciscan Center and Maryland Food Bank.

“We couldn’t be more excited to partner with local organizations to better our community,” said George McManus, president and owner, JJ McDonnell. “JJ McDonnell believes in the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and it is our pleasure to facilitate seafood awareness for families in need.”

A major supporter of the project, McCormick’s Flavor for Life® program also will be providing simple, healthy recipes that utilize low-cost ingredients, which will be distributed to the community along with the fresh fish.

“McCormick is proud to partner with the United Way of Central Maryland, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, J.J. McDonnell and other dedicated members of the community on this innovative project,” said Lori Robinson, vice president of corporate branding, communications and community relations. “We consider it a tremendous honor to lend our knowledge and expertise in flavoring healthy foods to assist individuals, children and families in creating delicious meals. The recipes we are providing in support of this project are easy to use and feature natural, great-tasting ingredients that are accessible to consumers and will go a long way towards helping people discover new ways of enjoying mealtime.”

To learn more about the FISH project, or to find out more information about each organization’s role in the program, or to find bronzini recipes, please visit

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