San Francisco, Calif. and Portland, Ore —As a robust salmon season hits its peak in northern California, a growing San Francisco fishing cooperative is successfully demonstrating a new model for fishing, by delivering strong financial, community, and environmental returns.
The San Francisco Community Fishing Association doubled its revenue sharing with members in its second fiscal year, which ended December 2012. As of mid-2013, the co-op had risen to 19 members. SFCFA has also been matching “dock price” – the price per pound paid to the fishermen – and often paying more for members. The co-op has lately been buying a huge run of Sacramento River salmon; it has also moved crab, tuna and black cod in past seasons.
With support from Ecotrust, the organization invested in new infrastructure including a hoist, freezers and fork trucks, and made them accessible to its members at the San Francisco’s Pier 45. SFCFA has also taken over maintenance and vending of the port’s ice machine, ensuring a public service that has been intermittent in the past.
Meanwhile, the co-op is advocating for stronger state water policies to support healthy fisheries.
“We’re really establishing fair trade on the docks of San Francisco,” says Larry Collins, the president of the San Francisco Community Fishing Association. “Fishermen benefit when they own their product further up the distribution chain. We want to make sure independent fishermen can make a living; we want to grow infrastructure to make sure they can freely get product to market; and we want to ensure that the state and industry are taking care of fish stocks for the long term.”
“This is fair fish in every sense,” Collins adds.
SFCFA is part of a national movement in fishing communities to address issues in the fishing industry as well as the changing landscape of business and food. Two years ago, 12 likeminded organizations joined with SFCFA to form the national Community Fisheries Network to harness the power of new “social enterprise” business models and to respond to renewed consumer activism around food sourcing.
B Corps, the top echelon of companies measuring themselves on strict environmental and social metrics, now number 750 outfits in 27 countries worldwide, and include top food brands like New Belgium Brewing and Cabot Cheese. Meanwhile, concerns about overfishing and a wave of scandals about fish label fraud have consumers looking for greater transparency on fish source and harvest methods. More and more eaters are turning to direct purchasing from fishermen and cooperatives.
“We’ve come a long way in developing sustainability standards and labels for our fisheries, but none of those standards tell us who caught our fish,” says Ed Backus, vice president of fisheries at Ecotrust, which is a co-convener of the Community Fisheries Network. “We need a better understanding of where our fish comes from. Community-based fishing organizations like San Francisco’s are filling that gap. They are also the backbone of our coastal communities and economies, and key to creating viable fisheries for our future.”
Backus adds: “We are helping fishermen marry the latest in business practices with some of the traditional, artisanal qualities of food harvest we all value.”
The SFCFA’s milestones, to date:
- Leased a warehouse at Pier 45, as well as a hoist and freezers, with the support of Ecotrust and a grant from the California Ocean Protection Council
- Allowed members open access to hoist, freezers and fork trucks for free
- Provided reliable ice to the entire port fleet
- Returned revenue shares to members at the end of 2011 and 2012
- Hit 19 members at the end of May 2013
- Roughly 70 percent of harvest goes to local restaurants and caterers, via local distributors
- Lobbied for more freshwater allocations in the Sacramento River delta, for improved salmon returns
- Successfully advocated for crab pot limits in Northern California waters, via affiliate San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association
- Secured permits for three SFCFA boats to perform low-impact, vertical hook-and-line rock cod fishing this summer, as part of a demonstration approach for avoiding by-catch.
Restaurateurs in the Bay Area are taking notice of the SFCFA’s new business approach, as well as the product they are shipping.
Kenny Belov, who runs the restaurant Fish in Sausalito and the wholesaler TwoXSea on Pier 45, is working closely with the co-op.
“Our values align well with what they’re doing, and most importantly they are delivering some of the best tasting salmon and crab around,” Belov says. “We are cultivating an artisanal, crafted approach to fishing, focused on quality and fairness in harvest. That’s increasingly what eaters want.”
Ecotrust’s mission is to foster a natural model of development that creates more resilient communities, economies and ecosystems here and around the world. Over more than 20 years, Ecotrust has converted $80 million in grants into more than $800 million in capital for local people, businesses, and organizations from Alaska to California. Ecotrust’s many innovations include co-founding the world’s first environmental bank, starting the world’s first ecosystem investment fund, creating a range of programs in fisheries, forestry, food, farms and indigenous affairs, and developing new scientific and information tools to improve social, economic and environmental decision making. Ecotrust works locally in ways that promise hope abroad, and it takes inspiration from the wisdom of Native and First Nation leadership. Learn more at www.ecotrust.org