For years, the seafood industry has taken flack from many sides, primarily for regulatory issues that result in overfishing, illegal fishing, long supply chains, and a lack of transparency. The livelihood of local fishermen is often drowned by large corporations; such is the modern-day struggle of ‘the little guy.’ Many of the industry’s loudest critics are marine scientists. Thus, it is refreshing to find one such critic actually doing something about it. Meet Dr. Kim Selkoe, a marine ecology Ph.D. who is changing how folks in and around Santa Barbara, California consume fish.
After working with the Santa Barbara Sustainable Seafood Restaurant Program, Kim helped start a local CSF in 2012. A CSF, or community-supported fishery, is a subscription-based co-op in which customers pay up front for regular delivery of locally-caught seafood. Modeled after popular, land-based, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, the goal of a CSF is to create a positive and sustainable relationship between local fishermen, consumers and the local marine ecosystem. This includes fair compensation for fishermen, more transparent and shorter supply chains, and responsible stewardship of marine resources. As a bonus, consumers also receive higher quality, fresher fish.
Despite noble intentions, after just three years, Kim’s local CSF faltered and closed after the program coordinator left. “I couldn’t let it happen again,” she said, so she sought a partner who was equally passionate about sustainability to help resurrect what she saw as an important asset to her community.
A fisherman’s daughter herself, Victoria Voss was angling for a new project. She knew that she wanted to work with fish. “I love the nitty gritty of the fishing community. I grew up in it,” she said. At the time of her search, Victoria’s dad was conveniently working with Kim to run Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara, a non-profit. He connected the two women and they wrote a grant to the USDA to fund a new CSF in Santa Barbara.
They got their funding and started Get Hooked, a new and improved CSF. The pair recognized that to maximize success, they would need to increase convenience to customers in as many ways as they could. For starters, Get Hooked offers more convenient pick-up locations, with 12 current sites and more on the way. They also transformed the business from a simple commodity to a tool for their customers. “Consumers often need someone to help pick out their seafood and teach them how to cook it. The trust isn’t there yet, so we’re trying to bring the seafood to neighborhoods each week,” remarked Kim on their new business model, which utilizes the partnership of small businesses in Santa Barbara and surrounding towns.
Together, Kim and Victoria purchase and deliver coolers full of a wide variety of portioned-to-order fresh seafood to be picked up at partnering business locations on weekday afternoons. Their set up offers weekly or bi-monthly delivery options that can be customized based on seafood preferences and location, as well as an easy method of renewal or cancelation using their website.
As any fan of seafood can attest, freshness is also key. Currently, most of the fish distributed by Get Hooked is caught on Sunday or Monday and delivered on Tuesday or Wednesday. One can anticipate that as the business grows, this frequency will increase in order to serve a larger client base, and in exchange, provide further recognition and support to Santa Barbara’s local fishermen. Kim and Victoria also suggest heading down to the Saturday Morning Fisherman’s Market to buy your weekend seafood directly from the fisherman.
These women are enjoying the diverse activities their days bring: “We are buying from the fishermen, filleting the fish, and delivering,” Kim said. Feedback from their patrons has been extremely positive so far. With growing awareness of the benefits of local CSF’s, all signs point to a long and happy future for Get Hooked, local fishermen, and the vibrant ecosystem just offshore.