It’s no secret that it’s essential to know where your fish is coming from these days: seafood fraud, unsustainable fishing methods, and tainted seafood abound, and it can be tough to know how to find seafood that's healthy for both your family and for the planet.
I just looked at the industry, and I just said, "Oh my god, it's so beautiful, and in many ways, it was broken."
Some people tout the benefits of using an app, like the one from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Others scour lists of fish that are sustainably fished in their area. Some lucky few can even buy directly from fishermen – and this exactly the kind of transparency being offered by Fishpeople, a fish company that wants to take the guesswork out of sustainable seafood for Americans nationwide.
What is Fishpeople?
A Certified “B” Corp out of Portland, Fishpeople was founded by Duncan Berry and Kipp Baratoff in 2012.
Baratoff has long worked at the intersection of finance and sustainability, successfully helping to build the sustainability-driven asset management firm Equilibrium Capital Group. Berry has also had a long career linked to sustainability bookended by work in the fishery industry.
At the age of 13, Berry began working as a commercial fisherman in the Pacific Northwest, and at 16, he became one of the youngest commercial fishing sea captains.
“For four years, I commercially fished in some of the most dangerous waters - they call it the graveyard of the Pacific,” he says. “And that really taught me that this is a hunter-gatherer industry; it wasn't potato farming - it's a lot more dangerous.”
Berry later went on to develop an interest in building value- and mission-based supply chains, spearheading Greensource, one of the largest organic textile companies in the world. After selling the company in 2006, he returned to his roots and discovered that the industry he so loved was flailing. Notably, Berry discovered that Oregon’s fishing economy was exporting 90 percent of its catch, while 93 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States was being imported from abroad.
“I just looked at the industry, and I just said, ‘Oh my God, it's so beautiful... and in many ways, it was broken.’”
Motivated to increase sustainability and transparency – and help local fishermen sell their seafood locally to conscious consumers – Berry teamed up with Baratoff, and Fishpeople was born.
“There was just nobody that was addressing the concerns of the modern consumer about their seafood at all,” Berry recounts. With Fishpeople, he has set out to do just that.
Certified Sustainable Seafood
Fishpeople’s “B” Corp status is a huge point of pride for the co-founders – and an immense indicator of the transparency to which they aspire.
“A lot of companies use the word sustainably really loosely,” says Berry. “Being a ‘B’ Corp, we get scored and audited, and we can't be lazy."
For Fishpeople, this status means going above and beyond the regimes and rating systems that most consumers use to choose their seafood. The company has created an internal committee that applies nine principles of sustainability to everything caught for Fishpeople, all the way down the supply chain.
For this kind of transparency, cutting out the middleman is mandatory. Fishpeople works directly with small-scale fishermen to bring sustainably wild-caught seafood to consumers. With every order, Berry explains, Fishpeople asks itself what effect this catch will have on the communities that depend on the sea, as well as on the billions of beings that live within it.
In 2017, the company merged with Ilwaco Landing Fishermen, which has docks at the mouth of the Columbia River and on Tillamook Bay, to help foster relationships with local fishermen. This past season, they even set up a landing on Alaska’s Yukon River to harvest fresh, high-fat Keta salmon alongside the native Yupik people and provide much-needed cashflow to these locals.
“Coastal communities are usually poverty zones," says Berry. "We want them to be vibrant places to live and work, so our docks are run that way. They're 'B' Corp docks.”
Of course, you don’t need to take Berry's word for it to know that this commitment to fishermen is real.
They treat the fishermen right too.
Bob Browning first got his sea legs at the age of five, working alongside his father. Today, Browning works both as a fisherman at the Garibaldi Landing in Oregon and the Vice President of the Port of Garibaldi Commission, where he advocates for better business practices.
Browning has been working closely with Fishpeople for the past three years.
“I was raised always trying to come up with the best quality,” he says, noting that since his father owned a seafood store, he felt obliged to always seek out the very best.
“Other buyers don't really care,” he says. “They tell you they want quality, but they pay the same no matter what. You can treat your fish horrible, and they treat you the same as the guy who treats them great.”
But when Fishpeople came to town, everything changed.
“They've actually pushed quality harder, and these guys pay more for better quality,” says Browning.
After beginning his work with Fishpeople, Browning took the opportunity to invest in a new boat, giving him the ability to chill his crab before unloading and freeze tuna right on the boat.
“I've always tried to strive for better quality, but with them, they actually came to me with ideas on how to do better,” he says. “It’s just really refreshing to take the extra time and get it the way they want it.”
“I'm independent; I can work with anybody,” he continues. “But since they came to Garibaldi, I haven’t sold to anybody but them. They treat the fishermen right too.”
How to Support Fishpeople
Fishpeople’s star product is their line of Wildly Delicious Seafood Kits. These kits provide consumers with everything they need to prepare Fishpeople’s sustainably caught fish right at home, including ingredients for both a topper and garnish as well as a moisture-lock tray for easy preparation and a step-by-step instruction card for foolproof results.
Kits are available in a number of flavors, like Meyer Lemon and Herb Panko Wild Alaskan Salmon or Garlic Parmesan Potato Wild Alaskan Cod. Soups and chowders, meanwhile, may feature Pacific pink shrimp or Browning's Pacific crab – and no matter which you pick, you'll know exactly where your fish comes from.
Each kit comes with a tracking code providing information on where and how the fish was caught, as well as by whom – an element Berry calls “the human-scale aspects of the story.”
“For millions of years of being, we have gathered around food,” says Berry. ”You don't wipe out that desire for context and story in three generations of industrial food.”
What Berry and Fishpeople have done, instead, is create a 21st century solution to this age-old question of the story surrounding what we eat and where it comes from.
“The world doesn’t need another seafood company,” writes Fishpeople. “It needs a different seafood company.”
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