By: Christophe Hille
In the summer of 2019, the Rhode Island Food Policy Council asked KK&P to execute the first phase of a feasibility study and conceptual plan for new investment in the state’s seafood processing capacity.
The work was part of RIFPC’s Fishing for Success initiative, a multi-step project whose goals are to develop the infrastructure needed to increase local seafood processing in Rhode Island, to ensure that this infrastructure supports the environmental and economic sustainability of the fishing sector, and to use this infrastructure project as a model to support the growth of food infrastructure investments. KK&P’s task was to make a business case for a regionally-oriented seafood processing facility that would be right-sized for the local seafood sector, able to adapt to climate change-related species fluctuations and actively contribute to an increase in the amount of Rhode Island seafood that is processed and consumed in-state.
Rhode Island has a dynamic and robust seafood sector—it landed more than 100 million pounds of more than 100 species of seafood in 2018, with a value of $93M. It employs more than 4,000 people and has an economic impact of more than $500 million on the state. Although there is significant seafood processing capacity in the state already, an estimated 90% of the landed catch is exported out of state or overseas for processing. This dynamic limits the presence of locally caught seafood in regional markets and curtails the full value that Rhode Island businesses can capture from seafood processing and sale.
To complete this phase of work, KK&P’s team—led by Senior Consultants Christophe Hille and Shayna Cohen and supported by Jason McNamee of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management—performed a blend of qualitative and quantitative research.
The qualitative research included interviews with representative stakeholders across Rhode Island’s seafood value chain, from day-boat fishers to regional- and international-level processors to institutional buyers. The team synthesized and analyzed the findings from these interviews to develop a picture of the key strengths and weaknesses of, opportunities for, and threats to the state’s seafood industry.
On the quantitative side, the KK&P team leveraged Rhode Island Chief of Marine Resource Management Jason McNamee’s deep knowledge of fisheries science and regulatory conditions to collate actionable information on the status of seafood species that are currently core to the local fishing industry or may be in the future. With this information, the team developed a picture of the diversity of under-represented and underutilized species that should be part of a local seafood strategy in the near-term and long-term and might be the foundational supply of a new, regionally-oriented, sustainability-minded seafood processing facility.
KK&P’s Phase 1 findings were presented at a meeting at URI Bay Campus’s Coastal Institute on February 6th. During the meeting, Collaborative Fisheries Associates—another consulting team engaged for Phase 1 of the Fishing for Success project—presented research into wastewater treatment infrastructure, which is a highly related issue that impacts any future investment considerations for seafood processing in the state. The meeting saw significant attendance from stakeholders across the state’s seafood sector as well as from people involved in the funding of this research and, potentially, future processing investments. The latter included representatives from the USDA, the Council of Development Finance Agencies, and RI General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.
The facility concepts that KK&P presented were built around the team’s findings that a relatively low-volume processing facility focused on high-margin products for the wholesale restaurant and small-scale institutional foodservice sectors would represent the best synthesis of the sector’s current and forecasted strengths, of likely opportunity species in the next decade, and of existing state priorities in the local food system. Phase 2 of KK&P’s work will focus on further developing these concepts with input from processing experts and stakeholders in the value chain, developing operating projections for the preferred options, and starting to map out potential locations and operators.