Welcome to Otolith’s latest initiative for advancing the financial stability of sustainable harvesters and local distribution while rewarding the courage and support of educated consumers of a wild and renewable resource.
The CSS 5-Year Program provides members with 20 lbs of wild coho salmon each year for 5 years. Each year wild fish will be caught on behalf of Otolith and our CSS 5-Year Members and delivered directly to members by Otolith. The CSS 5-Year Program costs $1000; that’s $10 pound for seasonal sushi-grade wild coho salmon delivered directly to each members’ home or local farm market.
A Limited number of CSS 5-Year memberships are available to returning CSS members only.
Otolith Sustainable Seafood has been striving to balance the interest of educated seafood consumers and sustainable harvesters since 2007. Awareness of the reducing biomass of global renewable seafood resources, obliges all seafood industry professionals and consumers to take action and work cooperatively in favor of cleaner oceans and eliminating harvesters that trawl to catch fish. Otolith’s 5-Year CSS strives to create and maintain a gateway for experienced vessel owners to participate in non-trawl fisheries by assisting them with the upfront costs of their limited entry fisheries including vessel repairs, insurance, food and supplies, and annual registrations necessary to their access of the renewable seafood resource. The goal of the 5-Year CSS is to create a fleet of non-trawl harvesters that participate in sustainable fisheries and who are capable of meeting the demand for premium quality wild fish while Otolith continues to align the common interests of all sustainable harvesters to protect and grow the renewable seafood industry.
How do you know if this CSS 5-Year Program is for you?
Over the last 5 years, Community Supported Seafood (CSS) has become a popular way for educated fish consumers to buy seasonal and responsible harvest seafood . Here are the basics: a fisherman offers a certain number of agreed pounds of fish to the public in exchange for payment upfront. Typically the agreed weight is between 10-15 lbs of a specific seasonal harvest. Interested consumers purchase a membership in the CSS and in return receive a bag of blast-frozen sushi grade average weight 1 lb vacuum sealed packs of wild seasonal fish each month throughout the fishing season up to the agreed weight.
This arrangement creates several rewards for both the fisherman, distributor and the consumer.
Advantages for fishermen:
- Get to spend time marketing the fish early in the year, before their 16 hour days fishing begin
- Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the boat’s cash flow
- Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they catch
Advantages for distributor:
- Get to spend time organizing our delivery schedules early in the season, before 12 hour days distributing begin
- Provides access to capital necessary to purchase sufficent volumes of superior wild and renewable seafood during harvest season to be delivered throughout the year
- Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the seafood they deliver and share their common interest in superior quality and sustainable resources
Advantages for consumers:
- Eat ultra fresh-frozen fish, with all the omega-3 and mineral benefits
- Get exposed to new species of fish and new ways of cooking
- Find that kids typically favor fish from “their” CSS – even species they’ve never been known to eat
- Develop a relationship with the harvester and learn more about how fish can be caught sustainably
It’s a simple enough idea, but its impact has been profound. Hundreds of families in Philadelphia have joined Otolith’s CSS, and in some areas of the country there is more demand than there are CSS harvesters to fill it. The government does not track CSSs, so there is no official count of how many CSSs there are in the U.S.
As you might expect with such a successful model, harvesters have begun to introduce variations. Other increasingly popular CSS models include a fresh fish dock-side delivery after each harvest typically only in fishing and port-side communities. CSSs aren’t confined to fish. Some farmers include the option for their CSA members to buy CSS fish and pick-up their fish and vegetables together at the farm therefore, allowing farmers to have access to seasonal and highest quality domestic fish. CSS is distributed at farm markets, farms, businesses, and at local docks.
In some parts of the country, non-fishing third parties are setting up CSS-like businesses, where they act as middle men and sell packages of non-local and sometimes local fish and/or shellfish for their members. Otolith operates as both a traditional CSS model and as a non-fishing third party business established by its founder with the intention of earning profits through organization and distribution of responsible and healthful wild fish and shellfish by improving value added services such as education of characteristics of sustainablity, sourcing transparency, quality control, and customer relations.
There is an important concept woven into the CSS model that takes the arrangement beyond the usual commercial transaction. That is the notion of shared risk. When originally conceived, the CSS was set up differently than it is now. Several years ago, a CSS enabled a group of people to pool their buying power to assert their collective interest in receiving access to freshest or best quality wild and sustainable fish and/or shellfish. Together they were able to purchase fish while assuring their money went directly to harvesters they appreciated for the service provided. Now, a new 5-Year CSS is available whereas a group of people is able to pool their money, finance the cost of permits to harvest wild fish, hire a fisherman and vessel, and each take an equal portion of whatever the vessel produces for the 5 year term. If the vessel has a king salmon bonanza, everyone enjoys the the most preferred wild salmon available. If an unseasonably warm summer salmon season causes the often tempermental sockeye and king salmons to postpone their annual spawning migration and forgo being harvested then all members will have to get by with mostly coho and maybe even a pink salmon fillet or two. Very few 5-Year CSSs exist today, and, for most fisherman, the cost of purchasing access to new sustainably managed wild fisheries is prohibitive of traditional financing and less likely in today’s economic climate. Within the two groups who can still afford to purchase the limited access harvest rights associated with permits and quota, only one group has the incentive to protect the cyclical and renewable yet industrialized sustainable commercial seafood network . The two groups are international processor corporations and harvesters who originally received their harvest access as a free allocation by the federal or state government providing that the permit or quota owner wishes his/her quota and/or permit to remain in the family. A new 5-Year CSS is one way an experienced and professional harvester can receive affordable capital to buy access to a valued fishery in exchange for providing direct market access to wild and sustainable fish. Harvesters may also sell to the farmers market, do some wholesale, sell to restaurants, etc. The idea that “we’re in this together” remains the prevailing theme behind the growth and continued market to harvesters CSS relationships however, real positive change has been included in the new 5-Year CSS relationship agenda. 5-Year CSS members gain access to the knowledge of how their money is being spent to sustain a valuable component within the cyclical and industrial world of sustainable fisheries. CSS harvesters gain access and awareness of what is important to the their CSS members. Harvesters are being rewarded for their minimally necessary efficiency, assurance of low environmental impact and participation in state protected fisheries mandated for sustainability. Low environmental impact harvesters are capable of catching hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish per year not per day. The state of Alaska mandates protection of its fisheries in the state’s constitution. Both seasonal and 5-Year CSS members are required to sign a Purchase Order Agreement with Terms indicating that they agree to accept without complaint whatever the permited harvester and his vessel and crew can produce.
Many times, the idea of shared risk is part of what creates a sense of community among members, and between members and the fishermen. If a disaster of large proportion should strike then CSS harvesters have the support of knowing they are not in this alone. Most CSS harvesters feel a great sense of responsibility to their members, and when certain fish are scarce, they make sure the CSS gets served first. Still, it is worth noting that very occasionally things go wrong on a commercial fishing vessel – like they do in any kind of business – and the expected is not delivered, and members feel shortchanged. At Otolith Sustainable seafood we are in touch with CSS harvesters and members from all over the tri-state area. Every year we hear some complaints about a few CSS members where something happened and the fish was simply unacceptable. It might have wormy fish, an unexpected death in the family, maybe the weather was abominable, or the harvester or crew was inexperienced and got in over their head.
In our experience, if the situation seems regrettable but reasonable – a bad thing that in good faith could have happened to anyone – most CSS members will rally, if they already know and trust the harvester. These people are more likely to take the long view, especially if they have received an abundance of produce in the past. They are naturally more likely to think, “It’ll be better next year,” than are new members who have nothing to which to compare a dismal experience. The take-home message is this: if the potential for “not getting your money’s worth” makes you feel anxious, then shared risk may not be for you and you should shop at the farmers market.
Sometimes we hear complaints from CSS members in situations where it appears to us that nothing really went wrong, but the member had unreasonable expectations. In the hope of minimizing disappointment and maximizing satisfaction, we suggest that anyone who is hesitant about joining a CSS program should not do so. Since 2010, Otolith’s CSS programs have upheld their obligations to their members without fail. However some fisheries have had a late start and incomplete distributions had been pushed back until more fish was available. On other occasions, Otolith has experienced delays in transporttaion of CSS into Philadelphia from Alaska and postponing delivery for up to a month past the expected delivery. Finally, less frequent but nonetheless possible CSS members having failed to request delivery of their CSS after numerous emails announcing its availability may find that their request once received is denied until the following season’s harvest because Otolith reserves the right to sell any undistributed CSS prior to the opening of the next year’s harvest due to our guarantee of most recent harvest to all CSS members.
Taking all of this into consideration, CSS remains an incredibly convenient way to eat the greatest sustainable fish year round and enjoy all of the benefits of access to a sustainable seafood community. The CSS is comprised of fishermen, processors, distributors and consumers all dedicated to superior quality seafood, positive change within the seafood industry, culture in favor of education and awareness of fisheries, seasonality of renewable resources, and environmental impacts. A CSS experiences all of the highs and lows of any industry and pushes on to rally against unforeseeable problems creating solutions while driving organization and industry away from an economy based on the negative impacts of trawling our oceans, distributing poor quality seafood, and reducing the sustainability of our environment.