Fishers are friends, not foes: Skipper Otto's Community Supported Fishery

Source: Clare Wheeler.

Source: Clare Wheeler.

When confronted with the issue of overfishing, some folks vilify the fishing industry for being the sole cause of depleting our oceans. It’s far from the truth! We frequently fail to recognize that fishers have strong ties to the ocean, and that their livelihoods would be at stake if it were to be depleted to the last 10%. Some fishers have deep family roots in fishing and many rely on fishing to sustain themselves. Thus, most fishers are as invested as the conservationists in protecting our oceans for generations to come. Rather than vilifying all fishers, we need to collaborate towards a more sustainable future.

One fishing family has taken exactly that leap with their a Vancouver-based company - Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery. In this edition of the sustainable seafood series, we explore what Community Supported Fisheries are, how they works and their potential benefits. We also give a big thanks to Sonia Strobel (the Managing Director at Skipper Otto’s) for providing further insights on the topic.

Community supported fisheries (CSF) are a relatively new concept (based off of community supported agriculture). This initiative involves consumer agreeing to purchase their seafood directly from their local fishers for a predetermined amount of time. Consumers become CSF members by agreeing to give fishers financial support (buying stocks or credit) before the season, in exchange for fresh seafood during the fishing season. In return, members provide fishers with the financial resource necessary to fish sustainably through the season.

Eliminating the seafood supply chain comes with a plethora of benefits for all parties: increased transparency (what, where, how your food was caught) for the consumer and increased profits for fishers (as the “middle players” are eliminated in the food supply chain). The latter allows for the offset of high vessel operation costs. Furthermore, there’s a reduced carbon footprint, as we are purchasing fresh seafood locally instead of paying for older (usually frozen) product to be shipped from miles away. Additionally, through such direct interaction between consumers and fishers, we can begin to form a community where locals are aware and involved with fishing practices and ocean issues.

Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery is the first of its kind in Canada and the second in the world. It began in 2008-2009, when Shaun and Sonia Strobel started the CSF with support from Otto Strobel (Shaun’s father). Otto Strobel had been fishing British Columbia’s coast since the 1960s and had considered giving it up as it became difficult for him to break even. Skipper Otto’s now works with 15 fishers and has expanded to over 1,200 members from BC to the Prairies. Sonia explained that the foundation of a successful CSF is based on trust that fishers are using sustainable fishing methods. Thus, the family fishery is extremely selective about which fishers it works with. Skipper Otto’s selects fishers whom they know are reputable and have a personal connection with. “The fishing community is small – everyone knows everyone else.”

As the 2015 fishing season is approaching, you can support Skipper Otto’s CSF by purchasing a membership. Fresh seafood will be available for pick up at select cities in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. CSF has been growing in popularity across North America, so if you are not within this region, chances are you will be able to find a CSF in your area to support your local fishers.