It was during a trip to Spain that a lightbulb went off in the head of fishing enthusiast Sean Barrett. There should be a restaurant-supported fishery, he thought, that allows local fishermen to sell directly to local chefs.
“I saw some local community fishermen walking directly from their skiffs right into the restaurants that surrounded the harbor with their hauls. Moments later, the waiters began writing on the chalkboards what had just come in,” he says.
That became the genesis for Dock to Dish, a program that promotes sustainable seafood sourcing into the marketplace and revives a traditional “know your fisherman” culture, which has all but disappeared over the past few decades.
“We cobbled together some good ideas from some farmer friends, and Basque fishermen, then created a new program that our community and local fishery desperately needed,” says Barrett, co-founder of the Montauk, New York-based company. “That enabled us to fundamentally change the marketplace with a triple bottom line model that took off like wildfire.”
The way the program works: restaurants sign up to be members and then take deliveries of whatever local fishermen happened to catch for the day, instead of placing orders.
“By surrendering to a supply-based system of local seafood sourcing, the restaurants benefit by knowing who caught their seafood, when it was caught, how it was caught, and why certain local seasonal species are so abundant and underutilized,” Barrett says.
In 2014, six chefs from Montauk enrolled in the Dock to Dish program, including early adopters Dan Barber, Bill Telepan, April Bloomfield, Eric Ripert, Francis Guzman, and Joe Realmuto. The program soon expanded to Amagansett, Sag Harbor, the Hamptons, and Key West, Florida.
Thanks to a long and strong working relationship with Community Seafood, a community supported fishery program in Santa Barbara, California, the Dock to Dish program next expanded to the Golden State in 2015.
Michael Cimarusti, co-owner and chef of Providence, a modern American seafood restaurant in Los Angeles, notes that Dock to Dish not only supports local fishermen, it also supplies his restaurant with incredibly high-quality, fresh seafood.
“The American fisherman is almost as endangered a species as a lot of the fish we’re trying to protect, so we’re happy to do our part to support our local fishermen,” Cimarusti says.
Each week, Providence receives 150 pounds of seafood from Dock to Dish—everything from familiar fish like halibut and spiny lobster, to challenging ingredients such as whelks and turban snails.
“Because we don’t know what we’re getting until the night before the delivery, sometimes we receive an unfamiliar type of fish and are forced to think on our feet in terms of how to use each ingredient on the menu,” he says. “While this can be stressful in the moment, it’s a great way to stay creative and constantly innovate new dishes at Providence.”
Currently, 19 restaurants are working with the Dock to Dish program. Looking ahead, Barrett says there are programs in the pipeline for numerous domestic ports, as well as a program in London and Costa Rica on the horizon.
“We intend to grow organically. This is a mission-driven organization that is seeking to expand a new philosophy and vision," he says, "so our strategy is to grow slowly and steadily.”
Looking ahead, he predicts, “We intend to establish thriving Dock to Dish programs around the world, and by 2021 will have operations in an additional eight U.S. fishing ports, from Massachusetts to Hawaii, as well as overseas programs flourishing in six foreign countries.”