Fishing Family Perspective: Why Skipper Otto Works for Us

Allison Hepworth - January 11, 2021

My name is Melissa Collier. My husband is a 4th generation fisherman, something that is rare these days. The fishing industry in the best of times is a hard, unpredictable and uncertain profession. It is getting harder and harder to make a living off fishing, and fisherman have to work more and more each year to do the same job they have done for decades. Every year we are thrown curve balls that demand something more from us, whether it’s changes to fishing regulations, Transportation Canada requirements, Work Safe BC requirements or even Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulation changes. However, this year, we were thrown an even bigger curve ball, a global pandemic. 

In addition to the everyday challenge of the fishing industry, we also have an extra challenge. We fish a product that no one really seems to want. When we started fishing for swimming scallops (AKA Pink and Spiny Scallops), we couldn’t find any buyers. Instead, we had to create a company in order to market and sell our own catch. It has been an uphill battle from the start. Our scallops are not what one typically thinks of when they hear the word ‘scallop’. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have told me “I love your scallops, but I can’t sell them. People don’t want them”. 

Enter Skipper Otto! 

We started working with Sonia, Chris and the other Skipper Otto team members during our first year of scallop fishing (2017). I have since had the great pleasure to meet and become friends with these fantastic individuals. When I first met Sonia, she told me a dream. She wanted to be able to fully support each fishing vessel she buys from. To take every fish that pass through the checkers. To give fishers the freedom to fish when, where and what they wanted to based on what made sense to them and not what they are told from their buyers. I thought she was crazy. In BC, we have limited opportunity fisheries. Which means we only have a short time in which we can fish. We bring in a large volume of product in a short period of time. I thought there was no way Skipper Otto, a company with around 2000 members, could ever take all the product from one boat, let alone several. She admitted it was a far-off dream and it would take a long time to get there. I thought it was a pipe dream. 

We have had ups and down the past couple years with scallop demand from the Skipper Otto members. We were excited that it was building, more of you were interested in them, but it was only a very small portion of our catch. The majority of our scallops were going to restaurants. As I said above, retail markets didn’t want them. 

Fast forward to 2020. We fished scallops as we always did this year. We fish in the winter, stock up based on the previous year’s sales, put it all in cold storage and sell them throughout the year. We fished in February…. the world changed in March. 

The world shut down, restaurants closed, those who stayed open reduced their menus to only those items that sold easily, our scallops were cut, sales crashed to a halt. We had all these scallops sitting in cold storage and we feared we wouldn’t be able to sell them. Skipper Otto took a big order back in December. We thought it would be enough to last most of the year and didn’t expect another order until the fall, if at all. What are we going to do with all these scallops? We are out the money it costs to harvest them, they are costing us in processing fees and cold storage fees, and they have a definitive shelf life (1 year). What are we going to do? Now please don’t think we would have let these go to waste. We reached out to every good cause we could to see if they wanted product. We donated to Ocean Wise for their aquarium fundraiser. We tried to donate elsewhere but many places wouldn’t take them. They are too temperature sensitive and an allergen risk. We were prepared to smoke them in the fall and sell them as an added value product. But no matter what, it looked like we would be taking a big loss on them…. but back to the story. 

 Skipper Otto Members to the Rescue!! 

Keep in mind I wasn’t expecting to hear from Skipper Ottos until the fall at the earliest. 

I got a call in May. “I need scallops, I’ll be sold out within a month.” I was shocked and excited! 

So, we got scallops over to the plant to get packaged into the 2 lb. boxes with Skipper Otto labels before prawn season started. Out went an order. 

In June, I went prawn fishing for two weeks with my husband. I got home to another call “They were supposed to last me at least a few months but I’m running out fast”. More scallops went to the plant. This time it took a while with how busy the plant was with prawn season. By July, I was hearing from friends who are members about not being able to get scallops. They were sold out. In the first week of August, out went another, even larger order. 

In September, I couldn’t believe I was getting yet another call “I need some more scallops. They keep selling. Our members are loving them.” Out went another order. 

Here we are, at the end of the year. Skipper Otto bought the majority of our catch from the 2019/2020 season. 

The rest? Well, we did donate a bunch, but most went markets on Vancouver Island that sold to folks like yourself looking to buy local as well as two restaurants who kept with us. This will be the first time since we started that we do not have to smoke any excess product. We sold out! 

Oh, but the story doesn’t end there. Your demand for local products, for knowing your fisherman was insatiable. For the first time ever, Skipper Otto took product off our boat from every fishery we are involved in. You bought the majority of our prawns this year. You bought all our coho, all our pinks and half of our chum. You bought the majority of the product that we brought in this year! And you paid us a fair price. 

I thought Sonia had a pipe dream. There was no way that Skipper Otto members could sustain an entire boat. Well, you may not have taken 100% of our catch, but you did save us this year. You supported us, you gave us the freedom to decide when to fish, how to fish, what to fish. We chose to fish for you. 

As we settle in to our athome routine after our fishing season. As we clean up, repair, maintain, build, improve. As we begin to prepare for our 2021 scallop season, we now have the time to slow down…. as much as we ever do…. to appreciate you all. This is when fisherman start to see how much money they have made in the year (because we often don’t get full price until now or even later unless you fish for Skipper Otto). Thanks to you, we aren’t in the dire place we were preparing to be back in March. Our fears did not come true…. because of you. 

So, thank you! Words cannot express our gratitude. I know this was long winded and thank-you if you have read this far. But I felt it was the only way to truly show you all how much influence your choices have had on fishing families all long this coast. We look forward to continuing to fish for you in the future. 

And special thank-you to Sonia, Chris and the rest of the Skipper Otto team for creating this opportunity to connect fishing families with people who want to eat our Canadian sustainable seafood. 


From Joel, Melissa, Cora and Caleb Collier F/V Lisa Jess 

Allison Hepworth - January 11, 2021

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Fishing Family Perspective: Why Skipper Otto Works for Us

Allison Hepworth - January 11, 2021

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