As part of our series on sustainable seafood, we’re doing profiles on a couple of startups in the community supported fisheries (CSF) business. Last week I spoke with Sean Barrett, founder of Dock to Dish, a CSF serving the New York metropolitan area from Montauk, Long Island. This week I spoke with Sean Dixon of Village Fishmonger, another CSF in the New York area.
Unlike, Dock to Dish, which was founded by and overseen by fishermen, Village Fishmonger is coming at this from another angle. Among its three founders, Sean Dixon, Samantha Lee and Dennis O’Connor, two have their roots in the restaurant business. Sean, who I spoke with, is a marine biologist and environmental advocate. Sean has an almost evangelical drive to teach people about the ocean and the many creatures living in it. And while the CSF — which currently has between 500 and 600 members — constitutes the core of their business, they all spend a great deal of time reaching out to the public, telling them the story of seafood, educating them about the great potential to improve our food system by, among other things, taking advantage of the enormous resources just to the east of them.
They see it as their mission to reconnect the city with its long heritage as a seafood producing and consuming town. “Most people don’t realize,” said Dixon, “that NYC was once the oyster capital of the world.” The last of the New York City oyster beds were closed in 1927, primarily due to toxicity, but there is hope for recovery. In fact, that is the mission of NY/NJ Baykeeper. Founded with the help of the Hudson Riverkeeper and the American Littoral Society in 1989, their mission is to preserve, protect and restore the most urban estuary on the planet.
Support for these kinds of activities is what has led them to collaborate with Future of Fish, Riverpark restaurant and others to produce the second annual Sustainable Seafood Week NYC, which is going on now. The event is a “culinary-fueled celebration … showcasing the efforts of local fishermen, chefs, organizations and communities to promote responsible sourcing of seafood.” In addition to ticketed fundraising events, there will be “programming geared towards anyone that’s a stakeholder in the sustainable seafood discussion, including restaurant professionals, seafood purveyors, and scientists.”
The kickoff Sustainable Seafood Shindig event, took place on Tuesday May 6 at Riverpark, with close to 200 people attending. Net proceeds from the event will be donated to NY/NJ Baykeeper. I asked Dixon about Village Fishmonger and what we can expect to see at this year’s Sustainable Seafood Week.
TriplePundit: Can you tell us a little about about the role Village Fishmonger plays in helping people make a sustainable choice in their seafood purchases?
Sean Dixon: People can click over to the fish tab on our website and see what we source and why we source it. They can click through to Fishwatch.gov and the fisheries councils and see why that is a responsible choice. This is [a] dynamic area, so you have to update your information regularly. Just recently, for example, butterfish, which had been considered overfished, has now been restored to the point where it is now suitable for commercial fishing.
3p: What is your service area?
SD: We fish anywhere from Cape May, N.J. to Montauk, N.Y. and serve the community all along the coastline. The geographic range helps out sometimes when the weather is bad in one portion of our range.
3p: How many fishermen do you work with, and what methods do they use?
SD: We work with six different fishing cooperatives that supply us with fish from close to a hundred boats. Mainly they are long-liners and trawlers.
3p: So what question keeps you up at night?
SD: There are millions of people in America who eat seafood, and there are lots of sustainable fisheries now in operation — where the gear is managed, where the bycatch is utilized — and it is being done in a way that is infinitely better than most of the imported seafood [yet 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported]. So the question is, how do we scale this up? How do we match up the demand with the supply?
3p: Not everyone lives near the ocean.
SD: That’s true. But we’ve been talking with a group in Boulder, Colo. They’re looking at sourcing and carbon impact. They have some great connections in Florida and Seattle, and they’re going to be able to make this work. This is being done all over the country, but it’s just like all the other aspects of our food system. People need to move away from the 99-cent, industrially-produced fish patty and move closer to a storied food — that is locally produced, in most cases is better for you and can often be just as cheap or cheaper, and in all cases, it benefits the local economy.
3p: So how do we get there?
SD: Well, it’s easier for people who have lived near the water. For the many others, who have become so disconnected from the source of their food, it’s these new markets where you need to put the time in to explain to people what this is and really build that connection back to the sea.
3p: So that brings us around to Sustainable Seafood Week NYC. Can you connect the dots for me on what happens there and how this helps people make the trip?
SD: We wanted to have a day where we could bring everybody together into one spot. Where we could have a day where we could talk to people in the fishing industry and the food purchasing industry and talk about these questions of story. Where we could have events at everybody’s favorite restaurant where the chefs come out and inform you about the local catch of the day and where it’s coming from and why they chose it. Where people could come to events and learn how to fillet a fish and for some, to learn what a fish looks like before it becomes a fillet. They could see what they are eating. They could talk to the people who caught that fish and ask them where they caught it and how and why. So we thought if we could do this all together in one big seafood celebration week, it will be able to reach a lot more people, and so far it has.
3p: That’s great. The festival is still going on. It wraps up this weekend with a number more events. For those in the area who are interested, check out the schedule here.
Image courtesy of Village Fishmonger via Facebook