Safe, Sustainable Seafood

Financial Planning and Marketing for Fishermen

Sarah Fisken, Marine Operations Specialist

 

With declining catches, fewer fish buyers, lower prices paid at landing and shrinking profit margins, commercial fishermen seek ways to increase the value of their catches through better handling, processing, storing, quality control and marketing. Since 2006, WSG and Philips Publishing Group have presented the Wild Seafood Exchange, an annual forum for Northwest and Alaska fishermen to discuss ways to start or improve direct marketing operations. The Exchange brings together fishermen, seafood buyers, restaurant operators, retail food dealers, and financial, business and marketing experts

 

Participation in Seattle’s annual Pacific Marine Expo also offers opportunities to share information and discuss industry needs. In addition, WSG is helping create a financial- and business-planning toolkit to help fishermen boost their profitability to be delivered through the national Sea Grant network.

Learn more about how Washington Sea Grant supports local fisheries here.

Contact Sarah Fisken at sfisken@uw.edu.

Recreational Harvest Program

Jeff Adams, Marine Ecologist and Teri King, Marine Water Quality Specialist

WSG offers opportunities for citizens of all ages to learn how to recreationally harvest marine and shoreline species and how to do so safely, legally and sustainably. Join local experts, experienced harvesters and Sea Grant staff in the classroom and in the field.
Best of all, WSG can help you to enjoy the healthy, nutritious fruits of your labors.

 


Seafood Quality and Handling Training for Tribal Fishermen

Sarah Fisken, Marine Operations Specialist

Fish and shellfish have traditionally been central to the economies and cultures of Western Washington’s tribal communities. But today’s tribal harvesters face limited markets and stiff competition. They can overcome these obstacles with improved catch handling and storage techniques, and by marketing unique local products such as the Olympic coast’s marbled king salmon. Working with the Nisqually, Quinault, Lummi and other tribes, WSG provides training in seafood quality improvement and marketing, increasing the profitability of their fisheries.
WSG also collaborates with the Lummi Nation to expand its retail seafood market, which serves Bellingham and Whatcom County and provides an outlet for both fresh catches and more profitable value-added products. WSG also works with the Washington Troller’s Association and Makah Tribe to introduce chefs, food writers and restaurateurs to the distinctive marbled salmon through its annual lunch event at a premier Seattle restaurant.

Seafood Training for Meatcutters

Sarah Fisken, Marine Operations Specialist and Teri King, Marine Water Quality Specialist

 

Many customers wonder whether the fish they eat are clean, healthy, high-quality, and sustainably caught. Often they direct these questions to workers behind supermarket seafood counters who wish they could help customers find the answers. Based on a survey of meatcutters and seafood department managers in several local grocery chains, WSG designed a 12-hour seafood retail training program for apprentice meatcutters.

 

This program is offered in conjunction with the meatcutter apprenticeship programs of South Seattle Community College and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. After the trainings, apprentices are evaluated on their retention of seafood information and surveyed about customer knowledge and training impacts.

Contact Sarah Fisken at sfisken@uw.edu.
Contact Teri King at wsgcanal@uw.edu.

State of the Oyster Study: Testing Shellfish for Health and Safety

Teri King, Marine Water Quality Specialist

Shellfish need clean water to thrive. Pollutants can destroy their beds, and bacteria taken up by shellfish can sicken people who eat them. WSG’s State of the Oyster Study is a citizen science monitoring program that trains waterfront property owners to test the safety of their shellfish before consumption. Four times a year, residents gather clams and oysters at low tide and bring them to WSG to be tested for Vibrio parahaemolyticus and bacterial indicators of fecal contamination. WSG then helps participants interpret the test results and, if necessary, works closely with them to identify and remedy sources of contamination.

The WSG Well Education and Testing program (WET)

WET is offered in tandem with the State of the Oyster Study. Testing your well water is the best way to identify possible contamination. The WSG WET provides homeowners with a local, inexpensive way to test well water.

Teri King starts a new chapter

December 6, 2023

After working at Washington Sea Grant (WSG) for more than 30 years, Teri King, aquaculture and marine water quality specialist, has moved on to her next chapter. 

King joined WSG in 1990. Over the next three decades, she built an innovative program of outreach and technical assistance around the issues of shellfish aquaculture and Puget Sound water quality, reaching thousands who shared her passion for healthy marine waters and resources. Her program has helped to develop aquaculture best practices, enhance shellfish resources, monitor marine waters, reduce pollution, and protect coastal environmental health, all while building a strong foundation of longstanding partnerships around the region.    

King’s many contributions to WSG, the University of Washington, and broader aquaculture communities during her tenure have been impactful. Among her accomplishments, she developed the “Septic Sense” program to help homeowners reduce pollution into Puget Sound; managed SoundToxins, a diverse partnership of aquaculture businesses, environmental learning centers, tribes and volunteers working together to minimize the impacts of harmful algal blooms; provided technical assistance to hundreds of aquaculture farms and businesses; created the State of the Oyster Study to train waterfront property owners to test the safety of their shellfish; developed training programs for proper seafood handling; organized the annual Conference for Shellfish Growers; and conducted groundbreaking research published in science publications. . 

The impact of King’s work is deeply felt in Washington and beyond. She organized more than 1,000 outreach events for children and adults, from beach walks and cleanups to workshops on low-impact gardening, home septic systems, and shellfish monitoring. In 2012, the state was able to open Lynch Cove to shellfish harvesting for the first time in 25 years, a demonstration of King’s work with residents through the State of the Oyster Study and other programs. In 2013, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s SoundToxin team identified rising levels of Dinophysis, which causes diarrhetic shellfish poisoning. The team alerted NOAA and the Washington Department of Health, triggering enhanced shellfish tissue sampling and likely preventing illnesses. King’s timely assistance to a family-owned shellfish farm once prevented the loss of 300,000 oysters from summer mortality. These and other successes point to King’s special ability to not only act on scientific information, but also to make it understandable and accessible to others. 

Though King has left WSG, she remains active in Washington’s aquaculture scene. She is now working as the Washington and Oregon Regional Aquaculture Coordinator for NOAA’s West Coast Regional Office. “My new position will allow me to continue working with WSG and the aquaculture community, and also grow professionally,” King says. 

WSG is grateful for the legacy that Teri built in serving Washington’s coastal communities. WSG will be working over the coming months to fill the vacancy left by her departure and looks forward to continuing many of the programs she started. The SoundToxins program is now under the leadership of WSG marine water quality specialist Michelle Lepori-Bui. Stay tuned for more information about the Conference for Shellfish Growers scheduled for March 2024. 

###

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

www.wsg.uw.edu.

Join the conversation: instagram.com/waseagrant and Facebook.com/WaSeaGrant.

 

The National Sea Grant College Program announces federal funding opportunity to advance U.S. aquaculture

December 12, 2023

Subject to the availability of funding, Sea Grant anticipates $5,000,000 to $6,000,000 will be available for research projects and programs that will develop and refine methods, protocols, techniques, and/or strategies to enhance the production of one or more life stages of aquaculture species with the overall goal of improving the efficiency, output, and profitability of commercial coastal, marine, or Great Lakes region aquaculture businesses.

Total funding for this competition includes approximately $5,000,000-$6,000,000 to support 4-12 projects for up to three years:

  • Up to $250,000 in federal funds can be requested by individual entities (e.g. a single individual, group, or institution) for research projects addressing the program priorities.
  • Up to $1,200,000 in federal funds can be requested for projects proposing collaborative, multi-partner efforts addressing the program priorities.

Applications require the standard 50% non-federal match for Sea Grant projects.

Federal Funding Opportunity: NOAA-OAR-SG-2024-24677

Please carefully review the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for specific instructions on how to apply for the competition via grants.gov.

 

Proposal Deadlines:
Letters of Intent are due January 17, 2024
Full applications to this competition must be submitted to Grants.gov by 11:59 pm Eastern Time on April 3, 2024.

 

Please contact oar.hq.sg.aquaculture@noaa.gov with any questions regarding this NOFO and please specify the opportunity in the subject line.

 

###

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

www.wsg.uw.edu.

Join the conversation: instagram.com/waseagrant and Facebook.com/WaSeaGrant.

 

Washington Sea Grant welcomes first Economic Recovery Corps fellow

February 20, 2024

Washington Sea Grant (WSG) is excited to welcome Jessika Tantisook as its first Economic Recovery Corps fellow. The inaugural cohort of the Economic Recovery Corps (ERC) will spend the next 2.5 years enhancing the economic development efforts of host organizations like WSG around the United States.

Jessika’s work, in particular, will cover several focus areas on the southwest Washington coast. Long reliant on ocean-based livelihoods like fishing, boating, and the industries they support, these communities face growing challenges, from changing weather patterns to an aging marine workforce. Amidst these complexities, the Coastal Opportunities for Resilience and Livelihoods (CORaL) project honors the desire of Washington’s rural coastal communities to maintain a strong marine-based economy. Initiatives under the CORaL project include the creation of a new business incubator and marine trade center; increased marine trade training efforts; marine economic visioning; and the development of tribal shellfish aquaculture. Jessika will be responsible for stakeholder engagement and facilitating communication across partners and regions, helping to create a comprehensive vision of a resilient and robust ocean economy across the Washington coast.

Jessika has lived and worked in economic development on Washington’s coast for over a decade. As a coastal community leader and local food systems aficionado, she has experience starting and operating an organic food processing business, building a regional food hub, and developing equity-focused programming to support small businesses. Most recently, she spent five years as the Executive Director of the nonprofit North Coast Food Web, leading the creation of its first strategic plan and helping to grow its food hub operations into a pillar of the Columbia-Pacific region’s local food economy.

“As a decade-long coastal community member, I’m looking forward to adding much needed capacity to key projects in our region,” Jessika notes. “I’m excited to meet and learn from the Washington Sea Grant team, and to share all the great things we’re doing locally with my national cohort of fellows.”

The ERC Fellowship program aims to build capacity in economically distressed areas across the U.S. while cultivating the next generation of economic development leaders. The program connects 65 host sites nationwide with diverse practitioners and leaders with the passion, skills, and vision to create new ways of doing economic development. The ERC Fellowship was launched in 2023 through a $30 million cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. It is led by the International Economic Development Council and supported by 6 other national economic development organizations.

Learn more about the ERC here, and about Jessika’s project here.

###

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

www.wsg.uw.edu.

Join the conversation: instagram.com/waseagrant and Facebook.com/WaSeaGrant.

Who brings your seafood to you? An interview with Nick Mendoza, founder of a seafood snack company

June 27, 2024

By Alison Lorenz, WSG Science Writer

To friends and family, Nick Mendoza has always been “the fish guy.” From what he describes as an “uncanny obsession” with fish in his youth to his work as a marine scientist, a love of the ocean is as inherent to Mendoza as his entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps these traits explain why, amid constant texts from loved ones asking how to eat more, and more sustainable, seafood, Mendoza saw not a challenge, but an opportunity.

Mendoza grew up in New Mexico and attended college in California. After getting a degree in aquaculture, he jumped right into the field, working in next generation aquafeed sustainability related to farming yellowtail and bluefin tuna and in a lab studying shrimp reproduction. He lived the picturesque life of a marine scientist, sailing on Pacific research expeditions, tagging tuna and even great white sharks. But though he was passionate about the ocean and sustainability, something didn’t feel right. Over time, he saw how infrequently insights from his research projects were actually put into practice.

Mendoza and his company’s fish jerky. Photo courtesy of Nick Mendoza.

“Big problems exist in the global seafood industry that need change and are ripe for change,” Mendoza explains. After becoming disillusioned with the incremental impacts he was making as a marine scientist, he decided to switch tracks: “The path for creating that change is consumers who are looking for the thing that can drive it.”

Mendoza left his career as a marine biologist and moved home to New Mexico to plan his next steps. For his burgeoning business idea, he took inspiration from his family’s cattle ranch. At the time, the ranch was exploring the idea of farm-to-table beef – a concept that Mendoza thought could also apply to fish. “Seafood could be a vector for a message,” he remembers thinking. “For these tenants that I tell people in my daily life – that there needs to be science at the source, traceability, all these pieces that contribute to regenerative seafood systems.” Those ideas took shape into the brand, and product, of Mendoza’s newly formed company, Neptune Snacks.

As Mendoza learned, global seafood supply chains can be tricky to navigate. Most seafood eaten in the US is imported; at the same time, the US exports most of its domestic catch. A lack of traceability means that problems like seafood fraud – where seafood is mislabeled as another species, or as having a different country of origin – is common. Neptune Snacks sells fish jerky made from “imperfect” cuts of fish: the cuts are too small or the wrong size to sell in grocery stores or restaurants, but are otherwise high quality. The fish themselves are wild-caught from two healthy domestic fisheries, Alaska pollock and Pacific rockfish. In not only reclaiming fish that would otherwise be wasted, but also sourcing it from robust local populations, Mendoza’s company aims to model a new kind of seafood supply chain, where traceability is the basis of sustainability. Each package of jerky even includes a QR code customers can use to trace the fish back to the vessel on which it was caught.

Seafood snack companies have a unique role to play in educating consumers about seafood and sustainability. “We have the opportunity to be storytellers right in hand with the consumer, because our product and existence is entirely consumer-centric,” Mendoza explains. Neptune Snacks uses all kinds of marketing to connect with customers, from its social media platforms to in-person store demos and presence at festivals like Ballard Seafood Fest in Seattle, where the company is headquartered. “It’s a pretty cool, rare opportunity to be spending a big portion of our time on awareness and telling the very story of what makes the fishermen and fisheries and US wild-caught seafood so special.”

The goal is to make it as simple as possible for people to “find two or three local and sustainable seafood items that they really like,” Mendoza says. The more people can form connections with tasty local seafood, the more they’ll choose it in the future – and help to build local economies that sustain US fishing communities and better value healthy, sustainable seafood produced close to home.

“I’ve been delighted to discover that if you build it they will come,” Mendoza says of his business journey. “There are so many people who post videos about their experience trying something, or send a watercolor painting of our package that their kindergartner did. You’ve created something that ends up in their stomachs and households.”    

###

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

www.wsg.uw.edu.

Join the conversation: instagram.com/waseagrant and Facebook.com/WaSeaGrant.

Who brings your seafood to you? An interview with Riley Starks, fisherman and co-founder of the Salish Center

June 3, 2024

By Alison Lorenz, WSG Science Writer

Riley Starks with chef and restauranteur Renee Erickson. Photo courtesy of Riley Starks.

Riley Starks had never fished a day in his life and had rarely been on the water when he graduated college in 1972. But he had a whole year ahead of him before he started law school, he needed money, and a friend of his had just bought a boat. When his friend asked Riley to come crew with him that winter, Riley did. “And it was just one of those moments when you have an epiphany,” Starks says. He came back after a winter of crab fishing, sold everything, and bought a boat of his own.

The start of Starks’s long career in fishing had its rough waters. His whole family came down to watch him take possession of his new boat at Ebey Slough, a narrow inlet near Everett. Nervous and unsure of how to turn around, Starks backed his new boat all the way out to sea. When he finally tied up at his destination, he was “so freaked out” he didn’t return for a week. Seven days later, the boat was nearly sunk, water from a leaky shaft log rising almost to the engine’s spark plugs. A nearby fisherman pulled up and offered him a #10 can to bail water out. “He pulled away laughing at me,” Starks says.

But rough waters and all, things fell into a rhythm. Starks was able to make a deal with a canning company early on, giving him a steady income. In addition to fishing Dungeness crab in the winter, he gillnetted for salmon out of the Fraser River in the summer. He tried out herring fishing in San Francisco and eventually got a coveted permit to fish salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska, which he did for the next 20 years. Though there were bumps along the way – a night they forgot to anchor in San Francisco, a sinking in Bristol Bay (no one was hurt) – Starks did well fishing. “It’s a pattern,” he says. “I did things without really being trained, without knowing – and when doing that, you make mistakes.” But in his case, Starks also learned a lot.

Starks now focuses on a sustainable type of fishing called reefnetting. First developed by the Coast Salish people nearly two millennia ago, reefnet fishing involves anchoring two 40 foot barges to an artificial reef that acts as a funnel, leading the salmon up and over a square net suspended between the barges. A fisher stands on a tall tower or watches through a camera to see when salmon swim over the net. Then, solar-powered electric winches pull up the net while the crew spills fish into the live well. In the live well the salmon rest, swimming into the current and losing any lactic acid buildup in their muscles, until they are hand-sorted. Any unwanted catch is released back into the water unharmed, while the targeted species is bled as it swims.

Harvesting kelp with Lummi Island SeaGreens. Photo courtesy of Meg Chadsey.

The sustainability of reefnetting led Starks to found the Salish Center, one of whose goals is to make reefnet fishing “the primary method for harvesting salmon in the Salish Sea.” The Center promotes reefnetting and the Salish Sea with communities in any way it can. In addition to dinners, festivals, reefnet fishing and seaweed excursions, the Center runs Wave Warrior, Adopt an Orca, and Salish Sea Certified programs – all with the goal of fostering the same love for the Salish Sea that Starks himself radiates.

Then there’s the Center’s newest venture, Lummi Island SeaGreens. One of the first commercial seaweed farms in Washington, SeaGreens fits neatly into the Center’s mission to encourage restoration and stewardship of the Salish Sea. Seaweed provides habitat for a variety of marine life in addition to improving water quality. When his business partner and Salish Center Board President Larry Mellum suggested they get into seaweed, Starks’s first thought was that he didn’t need another project – “but here I am, doing the work,” he says. “It’s exciting, but also challenging to be on the spearhead of it.” To this writer, it seems to fit the pattern of Starks’s life: the willingness to try something new, again and again. And with the Salish Center, Starks has a strong purpose in mind.

The Salish Sea is a uniquely vibrant ecosystem rich with marine life like kelp, salmon and orcas. At the same time, the threats facing the Sea are significant, from overfishing – Starks’s focus – to polluted runoff and habitat destruction. “People need hope,” Starks says of the reason behind the Center’s many projects. “Once they learn about the Salish Sea, it’s life changing. They really care and want to do something.”

“I was born to fish and I didn’t know it,” Starks says. “[Now] I’ve fished these waters for more than 50 years, and I’ve seen the changes. There’s a lot of good news.”

###

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

www.wsg.uw.edu.

Join the conversation: instagram.com/waseagrant and Facebook.com/WaSeaGrant.

Who brings your seafood to you? An interview with Roger Bain, fisherman of the Makah Tribe

July 10, 2024

By Jess Davis, WSG Science Communications Fellow

Bain pulling up his catch. Photo courtesy of Roger Bain.

Growing up in Washington state and a member of the Makah Tribe, Roger Bain’s ancestral and more-recent family history might suggest that he was destined to become a fisherman. The Makah people refer to themselves as qʷidiččaʔa·tx̌, which translates approximately to “The People who live near the Rocks and the Seagulls.” Aquatic organisms are integral to the Makah way of life, and they fish everything from whales to salmon and herring. In the 20th century, Bain’s grandfather hunted seals. “It’s in the blood,” Bain says of the Makah and fishing.

When I first reached out to Bain to chat with him about his career as a fisherman, I was met with an approaching deadline. Bain expressed to me that we needed to chat, now or never, because halibut season opening day was fast approaching. He would not be available out on the water; that time is for the fish. The pressure was on–much like Bain’s introduction to commercial fishing back when he was still a boy.

When Bain was on the brink of adolescence, his parents thought that fishing could be the tool he needed to keep him out of trouble. At the age of 11, he was sent to live – and fish – with his older brother. Together, they trawled for trout and salmon: king, coho, and sockeye. Bain did not enjoy fishing much during these early days. But one fateful, chilly evening in the early 70s, he saw his brother pulling up fish and putting them in their boat. All at once, Bain was inspired to dedicate himself to learning the craft. That same night he decided to try his hand at fishing independently, unbeknownst to his brother. When Bain was caught, his brother proclaimed, “If you’re going to do it, you better do it right.” Bain’s brother began teaching him the ways of fishing. Eventually, Bain moved in with his brother permanently. He was fishing independently, and regularly, by the age of 16. 

Fishing has looked different for Bain over the course of his decades long career. While he started out targeting salmon, he eventually moved on to groundfish like halibut and black cod. Fishing for groundfish was different from fishing for salmon: the primary catch mechanism is  longlining instead of the gillnetting he grew up learning. There was a learning curve, but Bain pulled knowledge about longlining from his network of fellow fishermen to become successful. He was able to purchase his own boat and hire a crew to work for him. Purchasing his first boat at the young age of 24 is the event that Bain highlighted as the proudest moment of his career.

Bain’s experience fishing groundfish eventually led him to serve as the tribal representative on the Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s groundfish advisory council. Upon his appointment, it became clear that non-tribal fishermen did not understand the rules and regulations that tribal fishermen had to follow. For example, not only did Tribal fishermen have to follow the same federal regulations, but they also needed observers to collect real-time data of what is being caught and discarded onboard while fishing. Bain saw his appointment as an opportunity to “[sit] on the gap” between tribal and non-tribal fishermen’s best interests, a role he described as “positive and productive” for all parties involved.

Bain’s sons helping him out on the water. Photo courtesy of Roger Bain.

These days, Bain is back to fishing for salmon. He says that the landscape of salmon fisheries is vastly different today than it was back in the 70s and 80s. Considering this year’s World Fish Migration Day theme, the free flow of rivers, I figured that excessive damming in Washington’s rivers was partially to blame. Bain told me, “it’s more than dams.” He noted factors like nutrient pollution caused by septic systems bleeding into the water table and the population explosion of salmon predators. In 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed into law, protecting charismatic megafauna such as seals and sea lions from being hunted or captured. This law has been largely successful for Washington and Oregon seals. Bain explained that it was typical to see one or two seals back in the 70s, but today you see thousands of them year round. “When you put it all together, it spells trouble for the salmon,” he says. Bain has noticed that salmon abundance is much lower. Back when he first started fishing, an average day’s haul looked something like 500 fish when he worked alone. Now he’s lucky to pull up 300 in a day fishing with his son. Fish are also smaller than they were in years past.

Luckily, there are a number of salmon recovery efforts happening around Washington state. It is this kind of work that gives hope for the future of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, and could keep Bain fishing with his sons for years to come.

 

###

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

www.wsg.uw.edu.

Join the conversation: instagram.com/waseagrant and Facebook.com/WaSeaGrant.

Who brings your seafood to you? An interview with Thomas Foster-Kibbler and Heather Auld of Foster Fisheries

January 24, 2024

By Alison Lorenz, WSG Science Writer

Thomas Foster-Kibbler. Photo courtesy of Heather Auld.

Before Thomas Foster-Kibbler got into commercial fishing, he wanted to be an EMT on a firefighting crew. He was living in sunny Los Angeles County, training to help others. The problem? He was spending all his spare time and cash sport fishing on charter boats and spending, as he says, “too much money to go fishing all the time.”

That’s when something clicked. Foster-Kibbler decided to try a career in fishing commercially, and found a new way to care for his community – through providing high quality, nutritious, locally caught seafood.

In one way or another, Foster-Kibbler has been fishing all his life. Growing up, he fished at every opportunity – with his grandfather and on family vacations early on, and sport fishing and working on charter boats as he grew older. Eventually, he began working on other commercial fishers’ boats. Asked what he likes so much about fishing, Foster-Kibbler’s answer was simple: “The freedom it offers. Being outside, seeing the sunrise and the sunset…mentally, it just felt good.”

He started out albacore fishing up and down the West Coast, eventually adding crab into the mix. Meeting and marrying his wife, Heather Auld, added her background in marine behavioral ecology and conservation to the pair’s expertise. When Foster-Kibbler’s Falcon Fishing Company bought a boat, the Falcon, in 2021, it allowed them to take things to the next level – and start bringing to life a vision they had for a fishing operation that was not only successful, but sustainable. The goal was to put in the time, care and attention to bring their customers the highest quality catch possible.

The Falcon, owned by Foster-Kibbler’s Falcon Fishing Company. Photo courtesy of Heather Auld.

Now, Foster-Kibbler catches juvenile albacore tuna and groundfish – including black cod, rockfish, sole, and lingcod. The cod, sole, and lingcod are caught using pots, while the albacore and rockfish are caught hook and line. This means that Foster-Kibbler and deckhands handle each fish individually. After they’re caught, the fish are bled, individually hung and blast frozen to super cold temperatures right on the boat. While Foster-Kibbler acknowledges there are “definitely more efficient” ways to catch and handle fish, this level of care ensures the final product is preserved at its optimal quality and freshness.

Quality and freshness aren’t traits customers always associate with frozen fish, something Foster Fisheries is working to change. “We definitely like to educate our customers – and generally, when they show up to the boat, they have a lot of questions,” Foster-Kibbler says of selling his frozen catch. Record-low tuna prices this past summer led he and Auld to begin directly marketing and selling to customers right off the Falcon. A big part of their job now is making sure people understand that fish frozen with today’s “quick-freezing” technology is just as good, if not better, than fresh fish put on ice. It’s just one of the challenges of direct marketing – but when all is said and done, Foster-Kibbler enjoys selling off the boat best: “I really like the customer engagement, educating people on our methods…It’s nice to have their questions get answered.”

In this new chapter, Foster-Kibbler and Auld are focused on reaching more people and growing their client base. Foster-Kibbler posts regular updates on Foster Fisheries’ Instagram, where customers can learn where the Falcon is docked and which fish are available to buy. He and Auld also want to advocate for resources that would help fishers just like them market and sell seafood directly to customers. For example, currently, due to food safety regulations, operations like Foster Fisheries aren’t able to process fish in ways that make it easier to sell on their boat; instead, they sell only whole fish. A public processing and storage facility where they could bring catch to cut into portions, vacuum pack and freeze, notes Auld, “would help customers buy fish off the dock [more easily]. It’s a cool experience…but it’s hard for a customer to buy a [whole] ten pound fish.”

It’s clear, however, that customers appreciate the extra care Foster Fisheries puts into their catch. Once, a customer sent a video of herself fileting a whole tuna fish she had bought. She used a spoon to scrape every last piece of meat from the bone, assuring Foster-Kibbler and Auld that none of it would go to waste. Another time, a customer dry-aged an albacore tuna, treating it like a fine steak. “Customers contacting Thomas directly and telling him how great the fish was or what they did with it,” Auld says, “[that’s] one of the things that’s really rewarding.”

While they most often sell in Westport, Foster Fisheries is planning their second trip to Seattle this February or March. Their Instagram is the best place to go for details. Wherever the Falcon takes them in the future, they’re excited to offer what they do best: high-quality, locally caught fish.

###

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

www.wsg.uw.edu.

Join the conversation: instagram.com/waseagrant and Facebook.com/WaSeaGrant.

Wild Seafood Connection to bring fishers and buyers to Bellingham in February

January 18, 2024

On February 29, members of the commercial fishing industry will have a chance to speak directly to their buyers – restaurants, retailers, brokers, and other seafood businesses  – at the Wild Seafood Connection conference, presented by the Port of Bellingham and produced by Colibri Northwest.  

Photo courtesy of Duna Fisheries, LLC

Formerly known as the Wild Seafood Exchange, the one-day conference aims to help independent fishing businesses directly market and sell their catch. Washington Sea Grant (WSG) was a sponsor for the previous incarnation for over 10 years. In addition to panel discussions, attendees will have the opportunity to take part in one-on-one roundtables on topics ranging from funding sources to small business case studies.

“It’s a unique opportunity for commercial fishers and seafood buyers to come together and learn from one another,” says Jenna Keeton, fisheries specialist at WSG and a speaker at the conference. “Whether you’re interested in simplifying your seafood supply chain, learning about different markets, seeking tips for better processing and distribution, or just want to know what technical resources are out there, that information will be available.”

Marketing and selling seafood products directly to buyers and customers can have many benefits, like increasing the price fishers receive for their seafood or ensuring a top quality product for customers. But in a complex regulatory environment, it can be difficult for independent fishers to get started, or to ramp up ongoing operations. Conferences like Wild Seafood Connection are one way to not only share knowledge and resources, but also to build community – and support local fishing economies in the process.

Wild Seafood Connection will take place Thursday, February 29 at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Bellingham, Washington. Washington, Oregon and California Sea Grants are gold sponsors for the event through a NOAA grant with Washington Sea Grant assisting in the concept and coordination of the panel program and program publicity. Registration is required; tickets and more information are available here.

###

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

www.wsg.uw.edu.

Join the conversation: instagram.com/waseagrant and Facebook.com/WaSeaGrant.

Wild Seafood Exchange

Jenna Keeton, Fisheries Specialist and Sarah Fisken, Marine Operations Specialist


WSG is a sponsor of the annual Wild Seafood Exchange, serving independent commercial fishermen who want to learn about marketing, especially direct marketing to restaurants, retailers, brokers and seafood buyers. Wild Seafood Exchange is an nine-year partnership between WSG and Philips Publishing (Fishermen’s News), designed to help commercial fishermen who want to sell directly or are currently selling directly to the public, restaurants and retail grocers.


The annual exchange provides the information and experience fishermen need to enhance their businesses. Attendees gather to hear panel discussions on processing and cold storage, what restaurants and retailers want, experiences from other direct marketers, new websites to help their business, and policy and regulatory issues.