Seafood is going local, do you know your local fisherman?

Once upon a time, in a small fishing town…

Fishermen were once the linchpin of a community, feeding the local economy and providing for their families. Now, the fish we are so used to seeing on retail shelves or restaurant menus are not so easy to find. Fishermen were once catching tons of fish on every trip. Prices offered for the catch were favourable with such large catches and the risk fishermen took every time they went to work, was rewarded. Today, there is short supply and a valuable catch is not guaranteed. However, there is still an appetite for fish and its in high demand. If this was the housing market we would see home owners cashing in! Yet small scale independent fishermen are struggling to find markets and are risking their lives chasing the bottom line.

What’s going on?

Climate change, overfishing, the rising value of the waterfront along with regulations & policy has all had an impact on the way fish is caught, sold, bought & consumed. Moving fish stocks to new waters, fishermen prevented by law from catching enough, or species that are disappearing altogether means that fishermen are no longer only risking their lives at sea, but their entire livelihoods are now uncertain as they head out to work.

Local agriculture on the other hand is booming. With local growers delivering fresh produce strait from the ground to your door the farm to table movement is impossible to ignore. ‘Hello Fresh’, now endorsed by Jamie Oliver, is providing new markets for local farmers and producers all over the UK and the USA. Entrepreneur magazine claimed “the sky is the limit” back in 2011 and farmers markets are bringing in millions of dollars each year to small towns and large cities alike. Restaurants are serving locally sourced ingredients, such as Ed from Town, Honolulu who puts local before organic. Food is travelling shorter distances and consumers are being brought closer to the producers and makers of their food. Still, the small-scale sustainable fisherman is struggling to make ends meet.

The new face of fishing

I have just completed a couple of months on the road following seafood events, conferences and festivals. Thrown head first into the most welcoming, diverse and passionate group of people. The crowds were not as you might expect. The room was young, packed full of women, young & old entrepreneurs embarking on new careers, scientists and activists. I met Nelly & Michael of Drifters Fish, Alaska who are sourcing sustainably from the sea to your table. Captain Tony Naples of Starbird Fish, Vermont who has built a beautiful modern brand of seafood and Marsh Skeele of Sitka Salmon Shares, a booming business model delivering fish all over the US. All of these fisherman are working toward the same goals — to source sustainably to protect the future of our oceans, supply perfect quality fish, build solid business models and a brand that reflects all of this.

Do you know your local fisherman?

But how many of you know your local fisherman? In the US, there are 30,000 Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSA’s) and only 40 Community Supported Fisheries (CFS’s). CSF’s are connecting communities to their fishermen, and providing a new market for those fishermen. They have grown organically from passionate people trying something new. Young fishermen are embarking on their own direct marketing channels, branding their fish as a high end quality product. Restaurants & chefs are getting some big fame and bigger fortunes by serving locally sourced dishes. Fishmongers are changing their business models to support the small-scale fisherman and are seeing the rewards of selling highly prized and valuable products to their loyal customers.

However, there are still many big buyers who control the seafood markets and stand in the way of small-scale fishermen trying to make an honest living. These buyers are setting prices that favour the larger unsustainable fishing boats that are bringing in huge quantities of un-branded fish. This fish is then handed off to processors and distributors who all need to make their profit. Here’s a short animation from Storied Fish who tell this story way better than I can.

Change is coming

There are many barriers that stand in the way of change for our oceans and the seafood industry. Consumer awareness, infrastructure, access to working seafront. The seafood supply chain needs simplifying to support the future of the industry and a good jump start is buyers of seafood asking questions. Restaurants have the power to educate, fishmongers have the power to connect… they both have an opportunity to reap the rewards of selling storied fish, empowering the local fisherman in return.

Change is needed to create a brighter future for the ocean and for the industries reliant on the fruits it produces. There is a community of fisherman who graciously take from the sea, who carefully handle each fish with pride and offer a beautiful product to be marvelled at… and they are your local fisherman. Do you know your local fisherman?

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