Local wholesaler provides access to fresh seafood
Seattle Fish Company International brings the bounty of the world’s oceans to Kansas City. The company recently moved its wholesale seafood operation in November from the East Bottoms to a new 29,300-square-foot facility in Riverside.
The Kansas City facility is modeled after its Denver-based sister company, Seattle Fish Company. Founded in 2004, the Kansas City operation has introduced an innovative program that offers weekly seafood specials and locally-raised fish as an alternative to sea-based sources.
The Whole Boat Harvest Program enables area chefs and consumers to buy a wider variety of seafood while they support sustainable practices. By and large, many fishing boats are driven to catch and sell only high-demand seafood that generates the most profit. Fish such as mahi, snapper, and tuna are bound for the wholesale market. Subsequently, supermarket seafood cases and restaurants sell these familiar selections to grocery shoppers and diners. Other fish caught in nets during the catch is often discarded.
To stem this wasteful practice, the Whole Boat Harvest Program obtains some of the “bycatch” from multiple vendors. The company sells a variety of this lesser known but equally delicious seafood as a weekly special direct to consumers. This approach boosts profitability for fishing boats that can earn more yield from each catch. Further, chefs and the public can buy fresh and frozen seafood direct from Seattle Fish.
“The program helps the environment [so vendors do] not over-fish the more popular fish that we have been trained to eat,” says Seattle Fish regional sales manager Jacquie Brockhoff. “The seafood available changes weekly. By Thursday, we know what we’ll have for Monday the next week.”
The bycatch available to the public depends on the season, the actual catch from the fishing boats and shipping conditions subject to the weather. Seattle Fish develops a weekly list of fresh fish specials. One week might feature sheephead, a fish with sweet, shellfish flavor and firm, moist flesh not commonly found on restaurant menus. Some weeks may feature three to five different selections such as John Dory, smelt, drum, and Spanish mackerel.
“It’s a new program that we’re getting off the ground,” says Brockhoff. “It will get stronger as we get more people and chefs involved.”
In addition to bycatch, Seattle Fish sells fresh and frozen seafood as available. Purchases require a 10-pound minimum.
“Customers can call, put an order in, and come in the next day to pick up their order,” says Brockhoff. “People are excited to have us here and have been calling.”
Seattle Fish’s Northland presence has generated local demand for seafood. For example, the company sold $6,000 worth of product alone to customers the week before Christmas. Shrimp, crab, and smoked salmon were popular during the holidays. As the New Year unfolds and diets begin, Brockhoff anticipates that customers will be interested in lean, white fish such as tilapia.
To place orders, customers can contact Kristen at Seattle Fish via phone at 816.920.7070, ext. 211, or email email@example.com for more information about availability. Pick-up time runs from 10 am to 2 pm, Monday through Friday.
Is Local Seafood an Oxymoron?
Seattle Fish has taken measures to source premium-quality seafood and fish, even if the source doesn’t come from the briny waters of the ocean. The company orders from fish farms and vendors throughout Missouri and the Midwest.
The overall quality and specific characteristics – fattiness, firmness, flavor, texture – of fish, wild-caught salmon for example, vary depending on the source, seasonality, and handling post-catch. The quality of farm-raised salmon and other fish will also vary, depending on the measures that a vendor takes with its aquaculture operation, better known as fish farming.
“A vendor at a fish farm can take care of the fish at all stages,” Brockhoff says. “With wild-caught fish, there’s no control or monitoring of the fish.”
Aquaculture company Quixotic Farming has developed a method for farm-raised tilapia. Since March 2014, Quixotic Farming began raising tilapia in nearly three-dozen 10,000-gallon fish tanks at its Chillicothe, Missouri, facility housed in a former Wal-Mart building. Also, since 2009 Quixotic has raised tilapia at its Colorado farm.
“Our fingerlings or ‘fry’ are shipped to our Trenton, Missouri, nursery from a hatchery in the Netherlands and one in Louisiana when they are less than 24-hours old,” says Quixotic marketing director Claire Constant. “From there, the fry either remain in Trenton to grow before traveling to our Chillicothe farm, or the fry are shipped by truck to the Colorado nursery to grow before entering the tanks of our Colorado farm. The majority of our fish complete their growing process in Chillicothe and are then shipped to Colorado to be processed for our frozen products.”
The fish sold to the live/fresh market to companies such as Seattle Fish come directly from Quixotic’s Missouri farm.
Brockhoff and her sales team communicate with supermarket fishmongers and chefs to educate them about Quixotic’s line of fresh tilapia as well as locally-raised and -sourced fish from other companies.
“We source barramundi [an Asian seabass] from Iowa, tilapia from Chillicothe, Missouri, walleye from the Great Lakes, and hackleback sturgeon caviar from Missouri,” Brockhoff says. “The barramundi is less muddy tasting and slightly cheaper than the same fish from Australia.”
Not all chefs are convinced of farm-raised fish as a sustainable, cost-effective alternative. One local chef contends that the quality of a farm-raised fish won’t be the same as one that grew in its natural habitat. The feeding habits, diet, water environment, and other factors cannot be replicated. As such, some farm-raised tilapia has earned knocks in recent years due to poor industry practices and declining quality. Still, the operating methods, standards, and output of aquaculture companies do vary, and consumers may not be able to tell the difference in quality.
Quixotic’s tilapia are fed a certified diet free of antibiotics, chemicals, and hormones. The company supplies a premium-quality product that’s worth the higher cost per pound, Brockhoff contends.
“Our fresh tilapia is much better than frozen,” Brockhoff says. “Most people only look at the price per pound.”
Quixotic’s frozen tilapia products are available from area Price Chopper stores and Door-to-Door Organics. The company plans to open an e-commerce store as well.
Seattle Fish Company International is working with vendors on sustainable fishing programs, and developing relationships with local companies for alternative sources of fresh fish. The company and informed consumers both represent critical points in the pathway from water-based source to plate. That network begins with fishing boats and extends to the supermarket seafood case, dining experiences in restaurants, hotels and other venues, and, ultimately, the consumer. From the heart of the Midwest, Seattle Fish’s challenging role balances needs between consumer preferences, demand from its clients, evolving practices by vendors, and sustainability as part of its mission.