Food Voices: The Interviews
Port Orford, Oregon
Aaron has been fishing out of Port Orford, Oregon. He long-lines for halibut, black cod, and sablefish, and trolls for salmon and tuna on his fishing vessel Golden Eye. He is the president of the board for PortOrfordOcean Resource Team. He also belongs to Klamath Riverkeepers and is fleet manager for the Collaborative Research on OregonOcean Salmon Project.
We launched a pilot project under Port Orford Ocean Resource team. We adhere to the triple bottom line economics. Where it’s ecology, equity and economy. Ecology for us is engaging in conservation network, like the marine reserve and stewardship plans. Equity is just continuous policy work to maintain access to the resource and we started a marketing campaign.
We are engaged in a yearlong pilot project. We started a marketing campaign in the Rogue Valley and brand Port Orford Sustainable Seafood. We have three partner boats that kicked in $1,500 a piece right off the bat to buy certified scales and licensing, the bare minimum stuff. We’re still riding at the bare minimum. We blast freeze all the stuff that we sell promptly. We ice it down, filet it, vac seal it into one pound portions and it’s quality.
We’re trying all different tiers of marketing. We shoot over to the Rogue Valley and I deliver to the Ashland Food Coop, a couple other wholesale outlets and several restaurants there. We do a farmers market on Friday afternoon/evening. We also were in a CSA and on an online farmers market that’s local. It’s called Rogue Local Foods and it’s kind of governed by an organization called THRIVE. We fish on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for Thursday processing and Friday delivery. We’re still personally driving the fish over in a pickup truck with totes and chest freezers at this point.
I’ve built some relationships with some people up in Portland too. We’re selling to the Bon Appetite cafés up there in all the colleges and also the industrial complex like Intel, Adidas, those cafeteria’s and we sell ten pound boneless skinless filet of black cod and they source through Fulton Foods, a subsidiary of Sysco Foods.
I still deliver 95% of my fish through traditional methods and we may do 1% of the fish that come across the dock in Port Orford local. We’re not going to make money because we’re starting out a business, but we’re educating consumers and we’re building relationships and we’re trying a lot of different ways to get out there and it’s been a lot of fun. We’re not doing a ton of business, but $3,000 or $3,500 on a weekend. It’s sure gratifying as a fisherman to have people saying, ‘good job, we really love what you’re doing.’ It’s fair trade. It’s great relationships and providing a quality food to people that are right here regional. So it’s fun.
We’re building a constituency of people that depend on us to harvest the resource for them. We build the relationship enough to where they would speak up in our defense, if need be. It’s like a voting block, as it should be. We’re hoping that another positive effect of doing some local marketing is to show some communities that are less progressive when it comes to fisheries issues that, yes, that it can be a benefit to engage in conservation. I think that people should really care about these issues you know. When it’s gone it’s gone forever.
There is an added value to the conservation work we do. There is a tangible benefit to conservation beyond being able to have my son and my son’s son make a living doing this right here, generations to come. I wish all the fishermen down here could go over there at the farmers market and have people sincerely come up and say, ‘Hey, thank you for fishing, man.’ We love what we’re doing here rather than the traditional buyer where you pull up and they peer over the dock and start, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ They’re trying to beat you out at every turn and they don’t carry your story. Your story goes nowhere. Once those fish leave this dock they’re mixed in with fish from all over. It’s a commodity and so if you go to Safeway or Albertsons and say, ‘Where did this fish come from?’ If they answer, they’re liars because they don’t know and neither did the guy who dropped them off, or the broker that handled them previous to that. It’s about five steps in the chain there.
The traditional buyer that we have down here paid us $0.60 a pound for the last ten years, which is the same that the trawlers get for fish that have been waded up in a net and on a boat five days before they get to shore right and ours are hook and line caught, one at a time, iced down, we take good care of them. I started paying $1.00 last year and so they finally rose up to $1.05 and now I’m paying $1.10. I mean it’s nickels and dimes, but it’s nickels and dimes over the entire lot of fish that come across our dock and not just the people that are participating in our program because we’ve also affected price increases from the traditional buyer. So now every rockfish that comes across the dock goes from $0.60 to $1.05, so that’s a $0.45 increase right there. That’s $0.45 times 100,000 pounds.
I see that we can get to where we’re doing between 10% to 15% of the fish that come into the port here. We aspire to get processing capacity here in our own community and create jobs here in our own community and keep some money here instead of shipping it all out like we’ve been doing through the traditional system. If we could create three full time jobs over the next couple of years that would be on track with what we feel we can do and keep some of that money here in this community. We wear a dollar out here. I mean a dollar that stays in this town you have to make an effort to go spend it somewhere else. The more dollars we generate in our community, the more of the multiplier effect and it should be good for all.