Tracing seafood is a murky issue. Fish is often mislabelled, meaning that what’s in the packet may not be as described (see 'DNA testing keeps marine stewardship up to the mark').
Now, social enterprise I Love Blue Sea (ILBS) has created the first online platform enabling consumers in the US to buy fresh, sustainably caught seafood directly from producers. The San Francisco-based start-up offers a virtual fish counter of 110 products, from shellfish and wild fish to ready-made dishes.
The new service, whereby orders are shared immediately with producers and delivered to customers within 24-48 hours, is funded by a 10% fee taken from each sale. Selling their catch directly to consumers means the fisheries can earn up to three times more than they would by dealing with retailers, claims ILBS founder Martin Reed. Importantly, producers are required to observe the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch’s sustainable fishing guidelines, which aim to protect fish stocks and minimise harm to local ecosystems and marine habitats. Customers can check their credentials of each supplier online. ILBS is also one of 200 conservation outreach partners for Seafood Watch, a science-based, not-for-profit initiative that advises businesses across the US on best practice in sourcing sustainable seafood.
“American fisheries are currently encouraged to catch bigger volumes of fish to cover the rising cost of fuel and permits”, says Reed. “We help them to earn more by taking fewer fish from the ocean.”
Early sales suggest consumers are willing to pay a little more for sustainable, traceable fish, claims Reed. However, he adds, it can actually be cheaper to buy from ILBS if the product is being delivered locally, or if products are ordered in bulk.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of connecting people with their food”, asserts Daniel Crossley, Executive Director, Food Ethics Council. “Buying fish directly from producers means people are more likely to understand the impacts of what they’re eating and value their food more.”
Further ‘sea-to-plate’ innovations include the community-owned fisheries Siren Fish Co. and Cape Ann Fresh Catch in the US, and Catchbox in the UK. These cooperatives ask members to pay an agreed fee over a fixed period to support local fisheries, in return for a regular catch of the day. – Katharine Earley
Photo credit: I Love Blue Sea