Seafood lovers across the nation can now enjoy the fruits of our ocean waters a little more readily. Community Seafood, which was founded two years ago in Santa Barbara “to support local fisheries,” now offers Shore to Door, a direct-to-consumer program where paying members across the country can receive their share of flash-frozen, vacuum-sealed, seasonal catch straight from the boats of fishermen who call the Santa Barbara Harbor home.
Started in the summer of 2012, Community Seafood began selling an aggregate assortment of Santa Barbara seafood from a variety of area fishermen; within 48 hours of the catch, subscribers can pick up their catch at a series of distribution points around town. Currently, members choose from four differently priced offerings, with each individual piece of seafood labeled with a QR code detailing the fisherman who caught it, his or her vessel, how the fish was caught, and how to cook it.
The program began with 32 members in its pilot season and now counts 470 from Santa Barbara County down to the South Bay region of Los Angeles County, with pickups in Goleta, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Los Angeles, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Altadena, and more. Beginning December 1, the Shore to Door program will expand the organization’s network nationally, offering sustainably sourced Santa Barbara seafood to subscribers via a shipper that specializes in perishables. Delivering the first Monday of each month, the new program offers four different packages: Smoked Local Catch (cured fish and shellfish), Kings of the Sea (popular and traditional fish like king salmon, halibut, and sea bass), Classic Catch (fillets and shellfish, from black cod to shrimp), and Fisherman’s Choice (for more adventurous palates).
Modeled after Community Supported Agriculture programs, in which subscribers receive seasonal produce from nearby farms, the program is meant to cut down on the economic and environmental complications in the seafood distribution chain. Locally caught seafood is a delicacy surprisingly rare to find in area restaurants and grocery stores. Wild-caught seafood, such as Santa Barbara fish and shellfish, often goes to higher bidders across the Pacific.
In contrast, almost 90 percent of the seafood Americans consume is imported in the form of cheaper, farm-raised alternatives from nations such as Chile, Vietnam, and Norway; about half of it arrives mislabeled. By going straight to the source and offering consumers full information of the fishes’ origins, Community Seafood’s model offers a simpler, albeit pricier, consumer alternative to less-than-fresh, ambiguously labeled supermarket seafood.
“We have complete control of the chain of custody, which ensures 100 percent traceability,” said Magna Sundstrom, operations director of Community Seafood. The organization pays “above dockside price” for the catch, which translate to bigger profits for the fishermen, who are otherwise “at the bottom of the seafood chain” for profit yields, Sundstrom said. The company’s model is second only to buying direct from the fishermen themselves, who sell their catches at Saturday’s waterfront Fisherman’s Market.
The organization also notes the environmental benefits for sourcing locally — eating closer to home means fewer overseas air shipments and ensures that your fresh catch are in line with the strict environmental regulations on California fisheries. The program may also introduce subscribers to new species of fish they otherwise may not have eaten, like black cod or sand dabs, and thereby diversifies a market in danger of overfishing popular populations.
“Eating local is always the best,” Sundstrom said. “It’s definitely more sound.”