One afternoon, not so long ago, Daniel Del Coro was talking to a well-regarded chef at a Florida seafood restaurant—one of those waterfront establishments where you’d figure the “catch of the day” was unloaded each morning off one of the boats docked twenty paces from the kitchen door. “The red snapper on your menu looks delicious. Where does it come from?” Del Coro asked, glancing expectantly out the window at the nearby dock. The chef shrugged dismissively. “No idea. All I know is that if it hits my price point, I buy it.”
So where did the snapper come from? Sure, it could have been hauled straight out of the Gulf of Mexico and onto the dock that morning. But it also could have been shipped thousands of miles away, processed in another state, then shipped back to be consumed in the very same coastal region where it first landed—changing hands three separate times over the course of its journey. In fact, it might not even be real snapper at all.
There’s Something Fishy Going On Here
Welcome to the modern seafood business: an industry where food fraud is rampant, grossly inefficient supply chains are standard, and transparency is all but nonexistent. While it’s now common for American consumers to want to know which farm their poultry came from, whether their beef was humanely raised, and if their tomatoes were grown without pesticides, the traditional seafood supply chain has become so opaque that people don’t even think to ask about their fish dish’s origin story.
Enter: Sea to Table, whom Munchery is proud to call a partner. The Sea to Table team is seeking to disrupt the traditional seafood supply chain by working directly with local, independent American fishermen and docks to make sustainably-caught seafood available to everyone. “We’re on a mission to make as large an impact as we can,” says Del Coro, who is Sea to Table’s national director of sales. “The seafood industry has been operating the same way for generations, and no one was making any improvements. We’re creating the national gold standard for seafood, so you can feel good about the fish you eat.”
Navigating Troubled Waters
Sea to Table’s strategy is a perfect marriage of modern innovation and good old-fashioned relationship-building. The company has forged deep connections with traditional American fishing communities from Alaska to the Gulf Coast, ensuring that each and every catch can be traced back to the exact dock—or even the very boat—where it was brought ashore. And by working with marine scientists and respected institutes like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, they’re helping to monitor our oceans’ precious resources and promote sustainable fishing practices in the process.
But Sea to Table’s biggest challenge may simply be a matter of consumer education—of course-correcting the warped relationship between supply and demand in the American seafood market.
The vast majority of the seafood we eat in this country, Del Coro explains, consists of only four species: shrimp, canned tuna, farmed salmon, and whitefish like cod—with over 90% of American-consumed seafood imported cheaply from faraway countries like India and China with little to no traceability along the way. Furthermore, because American fish consumption pales in comparison to international consumption, most of our domestic fish is exported abroad, where demand is greater. Consequently, the American public has little knowledge of the diverse—and delicious—domestic bounty swimming right under its nose.
Plenty More Fish in the American Sea
A perfect example of this under-appreciated domestic motherlode is the Acadian Redfish. Found in the deep, cold waters off the New England coast, Redfish is likely the tastiest fish you’ve probably never heard of. Redfish is considered a sustainable substitute for imported tilapia, with a comparably flaky fillet and similarly mild, slightly sweet taste. Yet public misconception that the species was only good for lobster bait, coupled with overfishing during the ‘70s to meet export demands, led to the assumption that there was no viable commercial market for the fish in the U.S. Luckily, Redfish is returning to its robust former numbers, and Sea to Table is working hand-in-hand with local fishing communities in order to educate American diners in order to create a better domestic market for this delicious, homegrown, and sustainable product.
Sustainability: Not Just a Drop in the Ocean
Though most of the seafood industry remains a veritable wild west of questionable practices and inefficiencies, Del Coro is optimistic that things are moving in the right direction. Companies like Sea to Table are starting to take the idea of the waterfront restaurant—where a boat backs up right to the dock to offload its yield to the kitchen, and where the “catch of the day” is literally the catch of the day—and scale it on a national level.
Says Del Coro, “We’re finally seeing a tidal change—pardon the pun—of people starting to want to know about where their seafood comes from.”