Dover Sole

This is a week of firsts for Siren. We fulfilled our first orders placed through Good Eggs. Our shop can be found here. It was really exciting to watch the orders roll in. It will be interesting to see how that segment of Siren grows in the next couple of months. It is my hope that by this time next year we will be able to find “homes” for all of the fish caught by one or two boats.

The other first, and this is a big one, is our first load of fish caught by bottom trawling. This is a decision that I have been pondering since the beginning of Siren. Trawl nets have been controversial in the past due to the damage they can do to ocean habitats and the amount of bycatch that can end up in the net. I had been told from the beginning, by people who know a lot more than I do, that this was a complicated issue. They suggested that in order to truly support the fishery, I needed to buy some trawl-caught groundfish. This fish and this catch method is a HUGE part of the Bodega Bay and Ft. Bragg fisheries. I was pretty overwhelmed by all of the information out there on the subject and chose to avoid the whole thing entirely until I could think it all over and do more research. Well, I have pondered and researched. I feel like we are ready to take this step. Here goes!

We bought a load of Pacific Dover Sole (Microstomus pacificus) this week. The fish were landed in Bodega Bay and caught by longtime Siren buddy Keith Gilmore. Here is why I feel great about supporting this fisherman and buying this fish:

-The West Coast Groundfish Trawl Catch Share Program regulates bycatch to the most endangered fish population, and there are onboard observers who make sure that all bycatch is accounted for.

-Dover congregate in large schools this time of year and skilled fishermen are able to target these groups, minimizing bycatch.

-In and around Bodega Bay, trawlers are only permitted to drop their nets over sandy areas, which sustain minimal or no damage from the use of these nets. There have also been modifications to these nets that minimize the impact to the ocean floor. Dover sole hang out along the muddy bottoms of these permitted areas.

-While many sources list long-line and trap as other methods of catching Dover, I have never found anybody who catches them that way. It is inefficient and rarely done. I have even been laughed at when I suggest it.  Please see page 6 of this report. Yep, no non-trawl Dover after 2002.

-Dover sole populations are at healthy levels.

As of right now, this is the only species we will buy from a trawl net. Not all trawl caught fish are evil. Fishing with a trawl net is an important part of the livelihoods of many of the fisherman landing in Bodega Bay. I hope that you enjoy the fish and feel as good about eating it as I did about buying it. If you have any questions or comments about this new move, please email me at sirenseasa@gmail.com

 

 

Baby Siren Grows Up

When I started Siren I had no idea where it would lead or how it would grow. At the beginning of the six-week trial run, my two goals were to not lose a lot of money and to make sure all of the fish was sustainably sourced. It was a big experiment and in my typical fashion I just jumped at it with everything I had and hoped for the best. After that trial run I had broken even (Barely!) and I felt really happy with the fish that had been delivered and the people who had caught it. I began to allow myself to dream a little bigger and write down some little milestones. Well, eighteen months later and we have demolished all of those little milestones. We have 300 subscribers and that number grows by at least five people per week! Our fishermen get paid what the fish is actually worth. They get a living wage and their catch is treated with respect. It’s a great place to be.

I started thinking bigger this time last year while I was newly pregnant with my sweet baby Theo. I was in a constant state of seasickness when I went to Santa Barbara to speak at the Edible Institute on a panel made up of women in seafood. That panel was a wonderful experience. I loved sitting next to women who knew their stuff and hearing about the way their businesses work. The whole conference was inspiring, but inspiring in a big way that takes weeks, months, or years to fully digest. So here I am, writing this thing I have been thinking about writing for almost a year.

The talk that made me sit up and rethink all of this CSF stuff came from keynote speaker Nikki Henderson. If I tried to recount the whole talk I would probably butcher it, but she talked about her own journey with food and food justice from her childhood to her current work with the People’s Grocery. 

Part of her talk was so revolutionary to me that I couldn’t even process how it applied to my business until months later. I don’t have a food justice background or a degree is sustainable food systems. I am most qualified to be an opera singer and four years ago I found people who thought that I might be really good at keeping a fish plant in line. I am exceedingly lucky to have found this business and this community of fishermen, processors, and subscribers. Her idea was roughly this: You want to change a broken system? You want to help people in a real and lasting way? You have to be with the breakdown.

Being with the breakdown isn’t pretty and it doesn’t always get you lots of attention and it probably won’t make you any money. You might have to eliminate parts of your business that earn money and attention to make room for parts that can help fix what is broken and might be less profitable or popular. That’s not to say that we don’t need to be profitable. If we lose money we go away, and then who are we helping? No one. We are striving to reach a careful balance and it’s a two-part problem. First you have to find the breakdown in what you want to change, and then you have to meet that problem exactly where it is. All of this bounced around in my head and I tried to think of where the breakdown is in the tiny little Siren corner of the seafood industry. This little corner is the part I know well enough to change.

The way I see it, for Siren to do the most good we need to address two areas of concern:

 1. Preaching to the choir. Earlier this year I saw this and I felt like they pointed at me and said my name. Our subscribers are wonderfully educated on issues surrounding seafood sustainability and eating locally, but what about people who aren’t subscribers? What about people who only know fish from their chain supermarket’s meat counter? I want to get shares into the hands of people who otherwise could not afford the service or know it exists. I know that this does not even begin to address the problems with our food system, but it is something that Siren can do now and refine and expand as we go. We will be partnering with food pantries near each of our drop locations to sponsor a family with a Full Fillet Share. They pick the family and we bring the fish. That family will get a share as long as they would like it. It’s that simple. We will be launching this on April 1st and hope to expand as Siren grows. This is our first small step into outreach and we hope to rope some other CSA’s and small producers into joining us.

2. Small fish in a big pond. The other issue I eternally contemplate is our support of small fishermen. In 2012, Siren purchased $50,000 worth of fish. That is not a small figure, but it is such a tiny number in the big picture of our local fishing industry. We are on track to spend $100,000 on fish in 2013, but that number is still one small order from a big buyer. I have always had this crazy thought that if I could buy and use everything from one or two boats that would actually make a big difference in their bottom line. If I pay 25% more per pound, but I only buy 1% of what that boat catches, that boat just got a tiny .25% raise. If I buy half of what a boat brings in and I pay 25% more, well that could make a real difference. So, we are adding new ways to get our seafood to you, and more uses for the seafood that we buy.

The SeaSA shares are not very flexible. I need a very steady quantity of fish, but a steady quantity of fish is not always going to be landed. Sometimes there will be 500 pounds available when I only need 400. What if I could find a use for that other 100 pounds? Siren Fish Co. has been created with the intention of producing products from fish bought from local small fishermen. Siren SeaSA will continue to bring the best local and seasonal fish to subscribers, while Siren Fish Co. will focus on hanging out in the smokehouse making use of those small surpluses. We will be rolling out smoked albacore and salmon (lox and hot smoked), as well as offering up some of the fish that we will overbuy during peak seasons and freeze for later use. We will also offer picked crabmeat during Dungeness crab season. It is all part of our grand plan to find more uses for the fish that we buy, enabling us to buy more and make a larger impact. Our processing partners at North Coast Fisheries consistently make the best smoked fish and provide us with impeccably stored seafood. We are very lucky to have formed this partnership.

Siren Fish Co. can be found on Good Eggs. We are excited to partner with them to offer delivery to your door of Siren Fish Co. items as well as Siren SeaSA shares. Check out our webstand at www.goodeggs.com/sirenfishco

If you have any suggestions on how Siren can be of help to your community, please contact me at sirenseasa@gmail.com. I am, as always, grateful to have contact with so many passionate and fascinating people. Thank you for helping us do some good!

 

Anna

 

 

Thursday and Saturday Drops

Thursday and Saturday drops will be getting Bodega Bay King salmon from our winter stores.

Subscribers that have been signed up for awhile might remember last winter. There were many weeks when I just had nothing to send out. It was sad and frustrating and I do not want to repeat it. There are times when serving no seafood is the only right decision. There will still be weeks when that is the only right decision, but I believe that we can limit those times with a little advanced planning. Last winter made me hate trying to get fish.

The start of Dungeness crab season creates a huge shift in the fishing community. To summarize, nearly every one stops catching everything else to focus on crab. Dungeness crab is delightful, but crab every week? Even the biggest crab fans get fed up with that. We have new fishermen on board who will continue to bring in finfish, but that brings us to the second sourcing issue: the weather.  High winds during a storm mean that NO ONE goes out to catch ANYTHING. This is a matter of safety, so it makes perfect sense and I am certainly not complaining. Rain also means that local shellfish farms get shut down due to contamination risks. These factors led me to make some plans to get us through the long stormy crab season.

We have frozen whole salmon and albacore that will be used on occasion throughout the winter. We will also be sending out custom smoked salmon, both lox and hot smoked, made from the frozen local salmon stash. I will always make it clear when we are dipping into our winter stores. The fish are excellent quality, as they were frozen whole on the day they were caught. They are thawed slowly, which is the best way to thaw frozen fish, and filleted by an expert crew. The fish are caught locally using sustainable methods by the very same people who caught the fish at the height of the season.

I will be sending out an email next week to all members, with instructions on how to opt out of these shares if you are not into it. I would encourage you to try some of the fish before making that decision. I love the fish that has been frozen whole because you can eat it raw without worrying about parasites. In other news, I can eat raw fish now because this happened:

My husband and I welcomed Theo Anthony Barr on 10/19/2012. 9 lbs 11 oz. and 21 inches long. He is so precious and we are so in love. Thanks for the patience with the slow posting this last week. These baby creatures sure do take up a lot of time.

 

NOTE: You can pull up all past salmon info by clicking on the “salmon” category at the bottom of the page. There are recipes, stories, and care instructions. You can also head on over to the recipe forum to see what other members have done.

New Oakland Drop in Glenview

I am pleased to announce a new East Bay drop! Shares will be available in Glenview on Thursdays from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm. This is a hosted drop at a home in the neighborhood, so the hours are set to make sure the fish stays fresh. When you sign up you will receive a confirmation email with the address and specific drop instructions.

This is a great time to join Siren! Our local ocean salmon season will continue for another 40 days and Dungeness crab season is right around the corner. Sourcing our seafood has been a genuine joy these last couple of months. Join up and get connected to our local fishing community!

Join Here!