WSG News Blog

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.

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