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There’s been lots of reflection in our office about the world of sustainable seafood this week. Many of you following the sustainable seafood movement probably saw the news exposing Sea to Table’s flawed supply chain and broken promises to its customers. This was heartbreaking, not only for its fans and customers, but for the seafood sustainability movement as a whole. Paul Greenberg, New York Times journalist and author of Four Fish (we highly recommend this book!), wrote a thoughtful piece in light of this news (read it here), which largely captures my personal attitude about what happened and how we should proceed.
As part of this reflection, several questions emerged, but one in particular stands out: How do we at Real Good Fish take a lesson from this? I think we have some pieces to the answer, but not the whole answer. In this reflective moment, below are some of the values we’ve lived by since we started business in 2012. We want to re-emphasize these values in light of recent news.
1. Evolve by continual improvement.
We have improved, and will continue to improve, many aspects of our business. From the core philosophies we continually revisit, to the physical ways we get our fish to you from boat to pick-up location, to how we pack your shares - we can share with you all kinds of revised missions, philosophies, theories of change, diagrams that illustrate how we continue to evolve.
Bay2Tray is a successful example of this evolution. Our Exempted Fishing Permit described in the previous blog post is another. We’ve explored GPS trackers on our vans and boats, and we’re looking into traceability software. (We’re looking for help with this, so if one of our members out there has the expertise, please let us know. Our grant proposal is due in a few weeks!)
2. Strive to be better, not bigger.
There’s a common conception that growth and scaling is bad for the customer, the quality of product, and the integrity of the business. I disagree. What IS bad is when growth and scale are more important than creating a better business. Building a better business provides the opportunity for growth without loss of integrity. While there are many businesses that have chosen to remain one size or another, there are other businesses that have decided to get bigger to have a bigger impact, while maintaining the integrity of their original business model. We’ll continue to try to grow our business to maximize our impact, but it will never be at the expense of our integrity.
With every aspect of our business we are continually looking for ways to improve. We know that who we are now is not what we’ll look like five years from now. With so much technological innovation, changes in our oceans, and dramatic trade and immigration policy changes, we know that we must respond and adapt. We’ve experienced our power to do this, and the power of our community to adapt with us.
3. Provide transparency to allow consumers to make better seafood decisions.
A big part of our business is helping our members learn what constitutes REAL GOOD fish. Educating consumers on what seafood is local and in season, and which gear sustainably catches which fish, is crucial to understanding what is truly “sustainable seafood.” Always letting our members know who caught their fish, where, when, and with what gear, and keeping the supply chain short enough to KNOW this and not speculate, is key to our transparency. We hope our members’ seafood experiences with us shape their seafood experiences beyond our products and service. We strive to help them become conscious consumers.
4. Know when to say ‘no.’
We are comfortable saying no. We may not have what you are looking for; not because we don't want to give it to you, but because our waters and fishermen don't have it to offer. It is for this reason we don't work with most restaurants, only a select few. As a whole, the restaurant industry has not demonstrated the flexibility and willingness to support our local fisheries. If you’re involved with a local restaurant and want to buy local, sustainably caught seafood, please contact us.
5. Consumers are an active part of this business and solution.
Our members are often active participants in the sustainable seafood movement beyond Real Good Fish. This week, one of our members, Barbara L., made us very happy by sending the aforementioned Sea To Table news to express support and to let us know how much she cares about the values we uphold.
We welcome engagement and feedback from our members, and receive an average of 65 emails a day, or 320 a week. The most valuable asset to our community supported fishery is our members’ engagement, through their weekly commitment to learning about and eating local seafood, through hosting our coolers, and through their emails and their posts on social media.
Now - What to do?
Part of me wants to retreat and go back to my recreational fishing roots, for hobby and sustenance. Fly casting for striped bass off the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard is as idyllic as it gets, but our fish and oceans are threatened by misuse and misunderstanding, which is a formidable problem that threatens everything.
The big opportunity is to create a system that upholds the ocean’s natural capacity to support life and provide the most sustainable food on the planet; to create a positive feedback loop so communities can culturally and socially embrace and celebrate wild seafood and the oceans we all depend on.
- Alan Lovewell, Co-Founder & CEO, Real Good Fish