Until recently, practically the only way to get local seafood in Boston was if you caught it yourself. Thanks to community supported fisheries like Cape Ann Fresh Catch, and now, an innovative company called Red’s Best Seafood, pescovegetarians like me can eat fresh, delicious, seasonal and sustainable seafood that’s just about as local as the lettuce in my backyard.
Red’s Best founder and owner Jared Auerbach didn’t grow up in a fishing family, but he spent a few years in the commercial fishing industry and is now devoted to helping small fishermen get the best possible price for their catch. “We want commercial fishermen to be part of the Massachusetts economy in 20 years,” Auerbach says.
The hardy men and women who venture out on small boats to catch our local haddock, scallops and cod are almost as endangered as the fish themselves. Catch restrictions, fish population shifts caused by climate change, and the uncertain economic returns are driving people out of the industry.
Auerbach developed proprietary software that enables Red’s Best to buy relatively small amounts of fish from a relatively large number of small boats in a cost-effective manner. Everyone along the supply chain enters data in real time that tracks how and where the fish are caught, the quantity, the dock where it comes in, and where it eventually gets sold. A QR code follows the fish from sea to table.
“Transparency is a byproduct of what we do,” Auerbach says. The traditional fishing industry is archaic and inefficient, he explains, with mounds of paperwork at every step, resulting in massive duplication of efforts. Streamlining the process enables the fish to get to restaurants, distributors, and consumers faster and also makes it traceable.
Auerbach runs his wholesale operation out of Boston Fish Pier and sells all over the country. He’s slowly building up a local market for local fish. Increasingly, Red’s Best is selling to local institutional buyers, like hospitals and universities, that are proving to be a source of support for the industry, as well as a steady source of income.
When Hurricane Sandy caused restaurants and shops in New York to shut down last fall, Massachusetts fisherman were caught with a large catch of high quality hake and pollock and nowhere to sell it. Red’s Best contacted their local distributor, FoodEx, and the Massachusetts Farm to School Project helped them reach dining service directors at local colleges, who purchased the fish, saving the fishermen from taking a bath.
Auerbach is also working with local K-12 school systems to get local fish into the schools. For example, Roslindale resident Asta Garmon, the Nutrition Analyst/Farm to School Coordinator at Weston Public Schools, has been purchasing from Red’s Best and serving fish chowder at the Weston High School cafeteria. Mass. Farm to School is working with other districts to encourage more schools to serve local fish.
During the past year, Red’s Best Seafood has started selling local fish at Boston area farmers markets, including the Egleston Farmers Market in Jamaica Plain. Although less than 1 percent of their product gets sold directly to consumers, Auerbach says that consumers at Egleston and other markets have a direct effect on the prices that fishermen get.
“In the past, if a fisherman caught a small quantity of one kind of fish, it would get sent to the fish auction and he’d get a low price,” Auerbach explains. The fishermen can get a much better price when Red’s Best sells directly to consumers at the markets. “That’s real money that’s going into the local economy,” he notes.
This weekend will be a perfect time to experience fresh local seafood at the farmers markets. On Saturday, February 16 from 11am-2pm, Egleston Farmers Market is holding a Seafood Throwdown. Chef Irene Li from Mei Mei Street Kitchen food truck will battle Tres Gatos chef Marcos Santos to see who can make the most delicious dish from Red’s Best Seafood and produce purchased at the market. City Councilor Felix Arroyo will emcee the event, and the distinguished panel of judges include David Warner of City Feed, Representative Liz Malia, Justin Dunk from Ula Café, Harry Perez from Plaza Meat Market, one of the Egleston market’s “youth ambassadors,” and, of course, Jared Auerbach of Red’s Best. Get there early to register to taste free samples.
And if you can’t make it Saturday, the Dorchester Winter Farmers’ Market in Codman Square is holding their own seafood throwdown on Sunday, February 17 from 12-4pm.