Dining

The Fight Against Fish Fraud

Dock to Dish is making waves in the seafood industry
Dock to Dish
Photos: Danielle Levitt

“That snapper you’re buying probably isn’t snapper.” “You can forget about getting real tuna.” Warnings like these have been all over the media in recent years as people finally start to catch the drift that fish fraud is rampant. The scam works throughout the food chain: Everyone from fishermen to local restaurants to large companies are mislabeling fish in order to sell less attractive, unknown and cheaper fish for higher profits. In 2013, advocacy group Oceana reported that one-third of all seafood in the U.S. is mislabeled.

It’s a grim picture, but the good news is that federal regulations, consumer awareness and companies like Montauk-based Dock to Dish are turning the tide.

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Dock to Dish, which co-founder Sean Barrett describes as a “bootstrap start-up,” is a community-supported fishery (like a CSA for seafood). The membership-based service connects fishermen directly with restaurants, so that chefs can access fresh, sustainable catches without a middleman—and without being ripped off.

Photo: Courtesy of Cayuga Collection

The organization has grown quickly, from serving primarily the East End and New York City to launching in California last year, and recently expanding internationally.

“We grew very organically in the East End, and now suddenly over the past 16 months we’ve entered into this new phase,” Barrett says. Dock to Dish ventured into unchartered waters when it partnered with Arenas Del Mar resort in Costa Rica a few months ago.

The program “flourished right out of the gate,” Barrett says. “It’s been a cultural restoration; a revival of the way things were 50 years ago.”

Get the first look with this video from Dock to Dish’s Costa Rica project:

Turning Dock to Dish into an international operation has flung open the gates for global opportunity, one which may take the organization to Indonesia next. In the meantime, Barrett is focusing on a pilot program in San Francisco, building a program in Nova Scotia, and transitioning the whole organization to a new model: one that will link specific fishermen to specific restaurants. That’s the format used in Costa Rica, and Barrett thinks it will be the next evolution of the company.

Photo: Courtesy of Cayuga Collection

“It’s a much more replicable format,” he says. “It allows for the venue and the chefs to create a much closer personal relationship with one or two fishermen, as opposed to a huge alliance.” And that’s ultimately the goal: to create strong bonds between supplier and consumer, eradicate fish fraud and work toward a more sustainable ecosystem.

“It’s been one long series of problem solving,” Barrett says. We can’t wait to see what they tackle next.

 

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