I’ve never heard the word “fresh” so many times in one day! I just returned from the Wild Seafood Exchange up in Bellingham. It was an all-day event with speakers from the restaurant, fishing, cold storage, and marketing fields. Sponsored by the Port of Bellingham and others, the show focused on the needs of commercial fishermen. Peter Phillips, publisher of Fisherman’s News, and Pete Granger of Washington Sea Grant moderated the panel discussions. The emphasis throughout was helping fishermen connect directly to the end buyer, whether restaurants or consumers.
The first panel focused on the restaurant industry, and what the chefs looked for when buying seafood.One chef mentioned that he likes to see his fish packed in “clean, white ice”. The blogger sitting next to me was taking notes and had written the word “fresh” and underlined it a dozen times. An audience member asked for clarification on what fresh meant, and the panelist elaborated. Obviously, keeping your catch at the right temperature is very, very important: too warm and the fish get ripe, too cold and they freeze when you only want them cool. So refrigeration was a “hot” topic! Other panels included direct marketing, sustainable fishing, web sites, cold storage, and legislative issues.
I met many interesting people, and spoke with most of the presenters. A couple of people stood out to me. One was Sonia Strobel of Skipper Ottos (above, third from left). This is a unique business model that has since been copied throughout the country. It is very similar to the community supported agriculture (CSA) movement, where consumers buy a share in the farm and receive boxes of produce every couple of weeks. In this case people receive fresh fish in the summer and frozen, smoked, and canned products the rest of the year. The seafood is sustainably harvested and the purchased directly from the fishermen. This cuts out the middleman, giving the fisherman a higher income and provides lower prices for the consumer. Plus it’s good for the fisheries. Fascinating concept. Skipper Ottos is in Canada but there are many CSFs (Community Supported Fisheries) here in the US.
Another interesting place was Flying Fish Company out of Portland, Oregon. Owner Lyf Gildersleeve spoke about his sustainable, local seafood business. Not all fish and shellfish available in the storess and restaurants are good choices from an environmental perspective. Populations of seafood vary over time, both naturally and depending on how heavily they are fished. Some are in good shape, and those are the best seafood choices. And when you buy locally you help sustain your local economy, support endangered family farms, protect the environment, and help safeguard your family’s health. Again, cutting out the middleman gives you a better product with more of the money going directly to the fishermen. Local food is fresher, healthier, and just tastes better.
There were lots of other great folks, sorry I don’t have room to mention everyone. I had a blast at the Exchange and plan to go back next year. And to all the people I met at the show: it was great meeting you, feel free to contact me any time.