For those who don’t already know, what is Sea To Table?
Sean: We are a company that works with fisherman in commercial docks around the country to find better markets for their catch. We communicate with them on a daily basis, finding out what these fisherman are landing, and we communicate that information in real time to chefs in restaurants around the country. Orders are then packed up to the chef’s specs, shipped directly from fishing communities and delivered overnight to the restaurants. We’re finding ways to create more value to the ends of the chain, the fishermen and the chefs.
Travis: Chefs can now purchase fish directly from a fisherman. All of our fish have a connection to a particular fisherman and to a particular vessel. We can say it was caught with this fishing method, by this captain who takes care of his boat, the ocean and his fish, so the quality is better. We know all of the traceable aspects; we now have a lot of clarity there that wasn’t in the seafood world before.
What are your respective roles within the company?
Sean: My dad and I are partners in Sea To Table, we work very well together. My favorite part is being on the docks, and being with the fisherman; figuring out how to get the fish from the fisherman to the chef.
Travis: I guess you could consider me a Sales Rep. I used to be a chef in New York, and I messed my back up in the process. I was looking for something different. I read about what Sean and Michael were doing. I grew up working on fishing boats in Florida, so I thought it would be a good, kind of intermediate thing for me to do while my back was recuperating. I called Sean, and he just pretty much offered me a job.
What does the term “sustainable fishing” mean?
Travis: It means the fish are not being overfished, and the fishing method cannot be damaging to the ecosystem. You can take a fish like bluefin tuna, which we don’t sell because it’s been overfished for many years. You could fish it sustainably, if you caught two a year, on hook and line, rod or reel. Now, you can take a fish that’s very sustainable as far as not being overfished, say a fish like pollack that’s very healthy. The stock are very healthy, but you could fish it in a way that’s very damaging to the ecosystem; you could fish with a boat that’s polluting the water, and that can make it unsustainable. You really have to look at where and how it was caught, there are so many variables.
How did Sea To Table and The Kitchen find each other?
Travis: We got in touch with The Kitchen through a restaurant in Denver called Potager. Their chef Teri is a really good customer of ours. She told us about The Kitchen when we first started going out to Colorado. It really blossomed about a year and half ago, with the beginning of the Kitchen’s growth and expansion. I speak with all of the chefs, every single day pretty much, from all the locations, and I’m talking to Kyle weekly or every other week about the grand scheme of things. The Kitchen hires amazing people. Sean and I both have man-crushes on Kyle. He’s like a big bear that we love. I wish we could hang out with him more.
Sean: Words taken from my mouth. Man-crushes abound around here. I think that Travis is so fantastic; he’s the guy that whenever you’re around, you’re just smiling, and Kyle is the same way. The three of us are all 6’4” plus. We’re all just bear hugs, smiles and giddy.
Travis: The Kitchen is a huge part of Sea To Table. It’s just a great relationship that’s enabled us to do things we’ve never done before. The Kitchen has been instrumental in our cold storage frozen program. They’ve been good at pushing us to learn new parts of our business. They have partnered up with one of our salmon fisherman who they get salmon from throughout the whole year.
Speaking of which, tell us about your sockeye salmon project.
Sean: Kyle got a chance this past summer to go and visit Bristol Bay, which is home to the world’s largest sockeye run, my favorite salmon. He flew in on a little duster plane, and got to go to the fishing grounds of a very good family friend and fisherman of ours, who lives and works on a piece of land that his family has fished since his grandfather was there. It’s called Graveyard Point. It’s an old cannery in Bristol Bay that’s been abandoned for years. There’s a piece of the cannery that acted as a graveyard, and when the big tides come in and out each day, each season, it erodes the land, and often catches coffins and corpses sticking out. It’s a pretty wild place where grizzly bears walk past your cabin. Between Christopher and his family, they catch half a million to a million pounds of sockeye every year. The Kitchen has been instrumental in supporting these guys, they buy a significant portion of their catch, and are able to menu it at all Kitchen locations.
How would you describe the current state of our oceans?
Sean: Our oceans have lots of problems, but they are very much alive and they need to be cared for. That’s something that people are only kind of awakening to now. The US has an outstanding management system, Alaska is the best. Alaska is the world leader in fishery management. Through their state constitution in 1956, they actually wrote in that their natural resources must be managed sustainably, and they’ve done a really good job on it. In the late 1970s, Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska put up a bill in congress, that’s actually law, called the Magnuson–Stevens Act. It said by the year 2010, US fisheries had to be managed sustainably or they would face federal shut-down. In the last five years things have really turned around, giving a natural resource like fish a break. The ocean is actually a very resilient creature, they come back but they must be managed properly. The fishermen are really the gatekeepers; if we don’t protect them, we’re not going to be able to protect the stock.
Interview by Veronika Sprinkel Ink 2015.