Notes From The Fishing Grounds
These last few months have been wild for us, as I’m sure they’ve been for you. They’ve made us rethink our systems and scrutinize what it means to run a business that is useful for our members who value its products and services; compassionate and fair for our employees; and in line with the shifting values of our culture and the changing nature of our planet. Quite the project to say the least.
One of the ways that this manifested itself was to take a good hard look at our supply chain to see how and where we are delivering value at each stop along the way. In going down this path, we ended up examining what differentiates our fish from other fish out there; what that costs to our members, who’ve always been willing to spend a few bucks a pound more on fish to support a system that is fairer to fishermen, better for the planet, and delivers a higher quality fish to you.
Take a peek at what sets us apart.
Notes: There's a wide variety of ways you can harvest fish commercially. Some of these ways are more environmentally destructive than others. These destructive ways produce a lot of bycatch or destroy fish habitat. Although it's impossible to perfectly quantify this, it's fair to state that consumers should expect to pay a few bucks extra for a harvest method that supports environmental stewardship. The numbers we provide here are a composite of dusky rockfish and coho salmon. The cheaper number is the cost of the fish harvested with large nets; our cost reflects hook-and-line methods, which produces quality fish, leaves more fish in the ocean, and preserves the resource for future generations. For more expensive species like king salmon, halibut, or black cod, you can add between $8-10 per pound to these numbers.
Notes: At Sitka Salmon Shares, we typically deliver between 15-20% more to fishermen than other fish buyers and processors. In 2019, it was 18%. The value we deliver is both species and season-dependent. There are no hard and fast rules, but in general, we deliver less value to fishermen for higher-cost species such as halibut and black cod, while delivering more value to fishermen for lower-value species such as the dusky rockfish and coho salmon you see above. Additionally, we deliver more value to our fleet when global market prices crash, like this year, where we're a solid $1.65 over the standard dock price. This year, we feel reasonably confident that we'll settle between 30-40% above the larger buyers. When the global market is good, our price differential is less noticeable.
Notes: Like much American manufacturing, seafood processing (the cutting, canning, and/or freezing of fish into food that consumers eat) has been off-shored, much of that to China and Thailand. About 2/3 of Alaska's salmon goes to China for processing--300 or so million pounds. That's quite a feat when one thinks that only a few decades ago that number would have been close to zero. There's a financial reason why: cheap labor, with few environmental and labor regulations, allows companies to process fish for dimes on the dollar. Our supply chain ensures that fish is processed domestically, at our own processing facility in Sitka or at a few other trusted processor partners in the Pacific Northwest. But it's not cheap. Domestic processing is about three to four times as expensive as that which is done globally. At Sitka Salmon Shares, all full-time workers have benefits and make at least $15/hr (to be completely transparent, we do employ some seasonal labor that makes less than $15/hr).
Notes: We care about telling the story of our fish from water to doorstep, being absolutely sure that the fish that gets to you is traceable back to the source. You pay about 50 cents a pound for this service, which is focused both on systems that ensure transparency as well as a host of really good chroniclers and storytellers who work on our staff. This includes our fishermen who spin some great yarns, too! We have an internal program for them that helps them add additional value to their catch for helping us tell their story.
Notes: All food production and distribution have an environmental impact. No system is perfect, but we actively try to minimize ours in ways that are both practical and thoughtful. Of course, it starts with our fishermen and their fishing methods (those are reflected in the above calculations). Additionally, these include offsetting our carbon in transport from Alaska to Midwest, utilizing the most environmentally friendly packaging and paper products that are on the market; and returning 1% of our revenue to the wild. All of these actions make our fish friendlier for our planet.
As always, I’m happy to personally entertain any questions you have about our CSF, our fish, or our fishermen.
Sending you my best,
- Nic Mink
Co-Founder and Chief Fishmonger