By Chris Patrick, staff writer
On the sixth floor of Slover Library, in a windowed, sunlit room overlooking the city of Norfolk, VA, people from around the world scribbled on sheets of toilet paper. They were writing down their business values—one per square.
These 110 seafood direct marketing advocates were participating in the second Local Seafood Summit, held February 16-18 and organized by LocalCatch.org, a global network of community supported fisheries (CSFs). The event was an opportunity for fishermen, CSF organizers, and others to network, collaborate, and learn from each other.
“I can’t really say enough to say how welcomed I felt by everyone,” says participant Gary Beatty, founder and co-owner of Inland Shrimp Company in Ohio. Beatty is trying to start a CSF. He worried about fitting in at the summit because he isn’t a commercial fisherman. “But I realized that we all have the same goals and vision for local sustainable seafood.”
In CSFs customers buy a cut of a fisherman’s (or multiple fishermen’s) catch. They’re a type of seafood direct marketing, in which fishermen sell seafood directly to consumers. When fishermen sell their seafood at Farmer’s Markets or directly to restaurants, those are also considered forms of direct marketing.
CSFs and other seafood direct marketing ventures are generally values-based businesses, making business decisions that adhere to a suite of principles, such as fair prices, sustainable fishing and eating, and traceability—all of which showed up in the toilet paper activity.
But the summit went beyond values. Participants learned about marketing, business planning, product management tools, and other strategies to raise capital.
“This summit is helping me understand both definitions of value,” says Anya Grenier, project coordinator for Alaskans Own, a CSF that’s part of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “I’m getting expertise about managing the business side, but the emphasis on values is a reminder that money is not the only ultimate goal, because I’m also educating the community and connecting them with their local food chains.”
The summit itself connected participants with local food chains. On the first night, guests attended a roaming dinner at the Culinary Institute of Virginia. They milled between kitchens, eating dishes that featured seafood caught around the country by summit participants and prepared on-the-spot by local chefs, as well as the institute’s chefs and culinary students.
“The partnership with the Culinary Institute of Virginia was a highlight of the event,” says Susan Park, former associate director of Virginia Sea Grant, a local host of the summit. “It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase seafood caught by summit attendees and to connect our future chefs with the local seafood movement and the fishermen and growers that provide this seafood.”
Participants are moving forward from the event with momentum. A team emerged from the summit to refine a document of collective values born by the toilet-paper exercise. Other subgroups have formed to share ideas for operating and marketing CSFs and similar businesses.
Some participants have already started to proceed with collaborative ideas generated at the summit, including a local seafood distribution app called Community Seafood Exchange, or CSFx. CSFx would offer a mobile marketplace for fishermen to sell their catch.
While Virginia does not currently have its own CSF, it does host other forms of seafood direct marketing. Some local fishermen in Virginia sell their seafood at Farmer’s Markets, or to restaurants. Park sees hosting the summit in Norfolk as another step forward for Virginia’s seafood direct marketing.
“I hope having this event here will continue to spur innovation in our local seafood community,” Park says.
LocalCatch.org hosts bi-monthly webinars about issues in seafood direct marketing.