With the arrival of the snow, winter has finally arrived in Vancouver and that means it’s time to reflect on what we have accomplished together in 2022 and to start thinking about the 2023 season.
This year was the 14th season that Shaun and I have run Skipper Otto, and our 8th season with our wonderful partner and COO, Chris. After all these years, it’s clear that this CSF model is a true agent of change and that it is important no matter what’s going on in the outside world – fisheries closures, pandemics, recessions, inflation, or any number of crises. None of those issues change the basic principle that everyone deserves to have a close connection to the people that produce their food. And that is particularly true in the case of wild fisheries.
Reflecting on the last 12 months, I am so proud of what we have accomplished simply by connecting home cooks to BC and Nunavut fishing families. That simple act helped accomplish a whole bunch of amazing things this year:
1. Spot Prawn Victory!
We achieved long-term success in our multi-year fight with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to back down from their arbitrary re-interpretation of the Fisheries General Regulation to make the over-50-year-old practice of freezing spot prawn tails at sea illegal. Our members signed petitions, wrote letters, and called their MPs. Thousands of signatures were collected and over 5 hours of Emergency Sessions in the House of Commons were dedicated to the issue. In January 2022, the re-interpretation was finally and permanently rescinded. We are humbled that we were able to rally public attention to this issue that was so important to fishing families but had had little traction in political circles until we asked for our members to get involved.
2. Arctic Char for All!
Over last winter we expanded our relationships and sourced arctic char from six Inuit fishers in three small communities in Nunavut. These deepening relationships meant we finally had enough arctic char for all our members who wanted to try it. In addition, to supporting these Indigenous fishers with a fair price, we also undertook scientific sampling of the fish from some new lakes that will hopefully allow the expansion of quota into some of these abundant but still-to-be-studied, northern waters.
3. Support for Tseshaht Fishers.
We also deepened our relationships with four Tseshaht fishers in Port Alberni this summer. In an abundant sockeye year, we sourced 25% of our sockeye salmon and two thirds of our chinook salmon from Tseshaht fishers Les, Jocelyn, Willard, and Natasha. Our members’ dependable market for their fish supported their innovations around high-quality fish-storage systems, needed since their small boats don’t have the holding tanks of conventional commercial gillnetters. This allows them greater independence and breaks the cycle of dependence on selling directly to a buyer on the dock. Skipper Otto is thrilled to support this independence with a fair price and knowledge that our relationships are built on mutual trust not expediency or
4. Oysters Without Borders.
We worked with a long-term connection and female shellfish harvester, Bretton Hills to bring frozen in-the-shell oysters to our members. We love the product and the ability to share oysters with our members far and wide. Recognizing that not every path is a straight road to success, we are waiting on offering more frozen oysters while we sort out a few logistical challenges. We’re also working with Bretton on processing options and on attempting to remove some arbitrary regulatory decisions about “best before” dates.
As we grow, we have continued our commitment to build an inclusive network of harvesters, representative of the true diversity of our Canadian fishing communities. Over the last twelve months, 24% of our seafood purchases were from BIPOC fishers. We still have a lot of work to do, and as we continue our ongoing work of Active Listening, and beautiful moments like this Day at the Wharf continue to illustrate the power and significance of creating spaces for diverse voices.
6. Paying it Forward.
For years, we’ve been quietly supporting a few of our fishing families as they provide sustainable seafood directly to local customers in their own small coastal communities. We are proud to provide this ‘no strings attached’ and at no cost, because it is just the right thing to do in order to build a local, direct seafood system. It would have surprised me years ago to say this, but we now have the resources and access to infrastructure that a single fisher does not; and large enough to help them with shipping, processing, arranging cold storage and even help them design and print their own labels! It seems like only yesterday we were too small to access these infrastructure pieces ourselves so we’re happy to pay it forward to help other fishing families.
7. Advisory Services.
We had an important realization in 2021 – that building a just and equitable sustainable seafood system can best be achieved through the proliferation of the Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) model, not just through the growth of Skipper Otto. There are about 200 small CSFs in North America — many, unfortunately, on the verge of burnout. I remember those days well and am so grateful for the mentors – including our very own partner and COO Chris – that helped us become a stable, sustainable business. And we feel strongly that each CSF doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. For years, we’ve been informally mentoring other CSFs and realized there is a need for a more formal CSF Accelerator program. This year, we continued our coaching for Port Orford CSF in Oregon and also began voluntarily mentoring another wonderful CSF, Fishadelphia in Pennsylvania, a youth-focussed, BIPOC-run organization doing amazing work to increase access to local seafood to communities of colour in Philadelphia. Through mentoring them, we’re building the formal pieces of our CSF Accelerator Program and pursuing grant opportunities to build it out for other CSFs in the years to come.
You know me — I much prefer to tell stories, but I figured a few stats tell their own big-picture stories, too. We have over 8,300 member families as part of our community this year in cities from Victoria to Ottawa, from Windsor to Fort St John. I am still in awe when I say that out loud! This large group is the sole reason we were able to support 45 fishing families this year, and we can’t thank you enough for your support. We have also increased to over 90 Community Partner locations that connect our delicious and sustainable seafood to you, and we are grateful for their partnerships.
9. New Software.
We have been working hard to launch new software to enhance your Dock shopping experience and we can’t wait to share it with you. The first version of this mobile-phone friendly software will be launched this year and is being rigorously bug tested now. It is a true game changer not only for us but for CSFs around the world. But more on that when we launch it!
10. The Best. Team. Ever.
I also want to give a shout out to our hard-working team at Skipper Otto. Our team has grown to twelve full time along with a handful of part-timers who make this whole thing work year-round. I have never worked with such a group of kind, hard-working, communicative, and ego-free individuals who are committed to helping each other succeed. What a pleasure and honour it is to work side by side with them, and I feel so lucky to get to come into work each and every day!
11. Eldorado Returns!
We bought back Otto’s old salmon gillnetter, Eldorado! Shaun and our teenage son, Oliver fished it in Barkley Sound and Alberni Inlet this summer in what is bound to be the start of many seasons. We have a long personal history with this boat and it is so great to have her back in the family!
12. Speaking and Advocacy Around the World.
I’ve had the immense privilege of listening and speaking to so many groups this year, each of them worth a whole essay of their own such as Terra Madre, Local Catch Summit and the Oceana Symposium. But, if I had to distill it all into a few takeaways, it would be that the problems we face on the BC coast are the same problems shared by those advocating for local and sustainable solutions all around the world: climate change; the loss of access to the resource for small, community-based, Indigenous, and ancestral fishers; and the lack of availability of local seafood for local consumers. But I am hopeful that change is coming too.
From the voices of harvesters and their allies in BC, Italy, Nunavut, Ecuador, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (just to name a few!), this year I heard incredible stories of resilience, creativity, and innovation. And at Provincial, Federal, and Indigenous government levels, I’ve never heard such consistent messaging about the need for protecting and rebuilding ocean abundance, and for local, community-led solutions. Change is afoot and I am continually honoured to be invited to share our work with communities around the world.
As I notice how long this has become, I realize I have so much more that I could share! Fundamentally, the way we work at Skipper Otto is so different from how anything else works in the fishing industry or the food business in general. We spend every day working towards change and equity and fighting the unjust aspects of the status quo. We are so glad to have a community to make this work possible and we don’t take that trust and support for granted.
Thank you for reading this long post and for joining us on this journey!
Allison Hepworth - December 14, 2022
What We Accomplished Together in 2022!
Allison Hepworth - December 14, 2022