Since the fall of 2016, Karen Karp & Partners has been working closely with the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust (MBFT) to develop a financially viable fish hub, modeled on the food hubs that are taking root around the country, in order to create new markets for Monterey Bay seafood.
Monterey, California and its Bay have a long and storied history in commercial fishing and the seafood industry. In 2000, however, the commercial groundfish fishery was declared an economic disaster due to what many describe as a mix of natural causes such as shifting ocean conditions and long-term mismanagement that had resulted in very low fish stocks and sharp declines in catch.
During the period of fishery closures and significantly reduced catch, many Monterey-based seafood supply chain players disappeared, wharf infrastructure languished, and cheap seafood from elsewhere flowed in to fill the market gap. Commercial fishermen stopped fishing—some for a time, some for good—and the industry and community around them struggled economically.
At the same time, the remaining fishermen and their fleet have been “graying.” There are few supports in place for aspiring fishermen or crew members to rise in this capital-intensive industry and captain their own boats, meaning that young fishermen refilling the community are rare.
In response to these conditions over the past decade, boat buy-back programs and relief efforts were instated, new management structures were built, and conservation efforts were advanced. Fishermen have innovated with gear and technology to reduce the environmental impacts from commercial fishing. In the years since 2000, fish stocks for many fisheries have significantly improved or recovered—a tremendous success, all the more remarkable for the speed at which it happened.
The combination of several factors led to the project between MBFT and KK&P. Healthy fish stocks, increasing consumer interest in where fish come from and how they’re caught, a strong fisheries-focused nonprofit sector in the region, and a commitment from the city of Monterey to invest in the industry all contributed to the desire for a new approach to local seafood promotion, marketing and distribution. The fish hub is an effort to make this new approach a reality.
Over the past decade, food hubs have emerged as a potential solution to a wide range of food system problems, and they are increasingly at the heart of strategies for economic growth, urban revitalization, job creation, public health, and food system resiliency. No two food hubs are the same, however, each comprised of its own unique mix of aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, brokering and marketing services. Some food hubs are profitable while many operate thanks to supplemental grant revenue and others have closed their doors. Some food hubs are infrastructure intensive, while others focus on brand or services without a facility. Yet according to the Wallace Center’s 2015 survey, just 13% of food hubs offered seafood.
In order to assess the viability of a new Monterey Bay fish hub, KK&P first reviewed relevant secondary research, conducted scores of interviews, and then identified and tested a set of functions and services a fish hub could undertake to leverage local assets and meet local needs. KK&P then supported MBFT in identifying strong financial institution partners to provide scale-appropriate access to capital and technical assistance to go along with it. Our team also undertook research and financial modeling to better understand the costs associated with fishing trips (by length of trip, by species, by boat size, etc.) and the relationship between those costs and pricing available in premium seafood markets that the fish hub would target.
Implementation is now underway for a fish hub that will seek to aggregate demand, coordinate logistics, and rebuild market share for sustainable Monterey Bay seafood. The fish hub has been designed with three distinct but complementary focus areas intended to serve the needs of all Monterey Bay fishermen.
Market Development: Following a recruitment process led by KK&P, MBFT recently hired Roger Burleigh to serve as the fish hub’s first Marketing and Supply Chain Coordinator, a position that he stepped into in March of this year. The Coordinator’s task will be to spark demand for local seafood and catalyze the growth and rebuilding of Monterey Bay’s fishing industry, infrastructure and associated businesses.
Education, Communication and Advocacy: Cross-sector engagement activities are being developed to strengthen the fishing community’s ties to the scientific and regulatory sectors, laying the groundwork for collaboration and future growth.
Capital Strategies: The team continues to develop partnerships that will bring funding and technical assistance resources to fishermen, including business planning, short- and long-term financial planning, and access to affordable and scale-appropriate financing.
With these efforts, KK&P and MBFT are taking an integrated approach to re-catalyzing the fishing industry and bringing Monterey Bay seafood to markets that value that local, delicious, and source-identified foods.
Click here to read more about this project from the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust.