Fish story

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Articles - October 2012
Monday, September 24, 2012
1012 FishStory 02Berry is firm that he has no desire to expand until he can prove that a regional model works. If it does, he would consider expanding, but instead of shipping Oregon albacore across the country, Berry would invest in a new supply chain in each region. Berry hopes to have a “Fishpeople Northeast” that would take advantage of Maine’s fresh lobster and employ a New England business to make sauces from local ingredients. “We’d keep the dollars there in the community,” says Berry. Meanwhile, the legal, financial and marketing arms of the company would remain in Oregon.

Fishpeople’s initial run of 10,000 units is small by industry standards. Finding processors on the Coast who would work with such small numbers was a challenge for Fishpeople’s head of operations, Charlie Slate. Formerly the sustainability specialist at fish-processing giant Pacific Seafood in Clackamas, Slate had lengthy conversations with processors, explaining Fishpeople’s mission to keep money, jobs and fish in Oregon, before he found the right matches. The company will be sourcing Chinook from Skipanon Brand Seafood in Warrenton; albacore from Oregon Seafoods in Coos Bay; and smoked oysters from Tillamook’s T&S Oyster Farm, which farms in Netarts Bay. Barnacle Bill’s Seafood Market in Lincoln City is smoking the salmon in the chowder.

Fishpeople is also contracting with Oregon Seafoods to use its retort packer, which owner Mike Babcock bought two years ago when he launched Sea Fare Pacific, his line of once-cooked Oregon albacore.

A relatively short supply chain — working directly with USDA-inspected processors like Oregon Seafoods and having regular conversations with them, the fishermen and the sauce kitchen — will allow Fishpeople to have a traceable product. Consumers can plug in the batch number on fishpeopleseafood.com and find out which vessel caught their fish.

Sustainability is also integral to Fishpeople’s brand. While researching the health of local fish stocks and which fishing methods trap the least amount of bycatch, Berry and his crew consulted the respected seafood ratings put out by the Blue Ocean Institute, the Marine Stewardship Council and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Ultimately, none of these provided enough nuanced information on Oregon fisheries, so they wrote their own Oregon-centric seafood ratings on seven species of fish.

Berry hasn’t always built businesses around his environmental ethics. When he ran the Apparel Source, Berry had a crisis of conscience. He had been sourcing conventional cotton when he realized that it was doused with toxic insecticides that were hazardous to workers and watersheds. On the verge of leaving the company, Berry sought advice from environmentalist Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce. “He told me I had greater leverage making change as a captain of industry than I did as a citizen,” Berry recounts. So he began sourcing organic cotton and soon started Greensource, an organic T-shirt division that supplied Walmart and Target. Before he sold it, Greensource was one of the largest organic-cotton textile companies in the world.

The idea that business can be a force for good has stuck with Berry. With Fishpeople, he is betting that Oregonians will vote with their forks by buying a product that is in sync with their values as well as their taste buds.

Making a profit is just one of many returns Berry hopes to see. “Once we start building volume, we can start having a positive impact on coastal communities and habitats,” Berry says. “That’s the day I’ll be happy and fulfilled.”

Hannah Wallace is a Portland journalist who writes about food politics for regional and national publications. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



 

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