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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I am, as always, grateful to have contact with so many passionate and fascinating people. Thank you for helping us do some good!