THE BLOG

Farm to Fork Across America: Netting the Spirit of Environmentally Responsible Fishing

03/24/2014 02:11 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2014

Co-authored with Lee Glenn

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Kina'ole in Hawaiian, means "doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, for the right reason, with the right feeling... every time."

That's a mouthful for a single word, but it's the mission statement and rationale for the eco-friendly business of Kanaloa Seafood in Santa Barbara.

I learned about Don and Randee Disreali from my interview with Chef Jimmy Schmidt at his desert restaurant. Seafood for desert dinners always left me squeamish about freshness and quality, but Jimmy had served a delicious Seared Ahi Tuna Steak, Roasted Fennel, Olive and Orange Salad.

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I had to know his source. He told the story of a couple of sea-environmentalists who morphed from scientists to seafood purveyors, forming a collective of concerned fisherman and fisheries.

In Santa Barbara with Kanaloa Seafood, I'm discovering a seafood purveyor with a profound story. Greeted by Don at the front door, he leads me past a large window showcasing the processing plant with the day's catch being cut and packaged for chef's orders.

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Don and Randee are naturally protective of their business based on a 30-year history of observing sea life reduced along the shoreline by industrial over fishing. Randee, then a recent UCSB master's student in oceanographic geography and remote sensing and Don, a UCSB biology professor, were activists challenging the recklessness of stripping the coastline's habitat.

While employed by Scripps Institute, Randee conducted one of the earlier studies tracking sea surface temperatures via satellite. The goal was to direct fishermen away from shorelines and further out to sea.

Randee explains, "From the bottom of the ocean, upwelling forces algae and phytoplankton to the surface creating an obvious feeding ground for massive schools of fish. This technology wasn't being explored for fishing."

Looking for a better way, they also searched for an innovative approach to operating a seafood business.

Randee recalls:

"To better understand the industry we went to Hawaii to work with a fishing family of three generations. We were exposed to all aspects from the bottom up. We learned how to work with fishers and how to process in the old tradition. We melded that knowledge with our background to create a unique business centered on a holistic approach to the fishing and aquaculture industry, environment and society."

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Inspired to distribute fish on the West Coast, they took the bait. In the plane's cargo hold flying back to Santa Barbara was tuna, tombo, Ehu, opah, ono, and other varieties. At first, they sold the fish to sushi bars. "It was a time in America, that if you didn't live on the coast with access to fresh fish, fish sticks were the America seafood experience," Don notes. "Flying fresh fish in the belly of a plane was not common practice... in fact it was unheard of back then."

They quickly discovered they were onto something.

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Word got out... one day they found Julia Child at their door requesting a consistent supply of unique seafood to support her new video cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In her own brusque style, she broadcast the message that they were the best seafood source in America. Decades later, Julia insisted that her retirement home kitchen purchase seafood from Kanaloa.

"What Kanaloa does really well is maintain a strong relationship with fishers and fish farms that are environmentally responsible, building upon and sustaining our family of suppliers," says Don. "They must be on board to lessen their environmental impact... essential to our family run company."

In the '90s, they searched for a governing agency "... to give credibility to our philosophy and to include full eco-system evaluation and audits."

They found ISO 14001, an international environmental management system used in over 150 countries. Randee affirms: "ISO 14001 created new guidelines for continual improvement twice a year. Kanaloa is the first wholesale seafood provider in North America accredited by them."

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Randee shares what ISO has to say about Kanaloa: "For such a small company, you get a lot done."

Don and Randee enjoy setting the bar high. As part of their business family, fishers must be willing to go the extra mile to improve their practices. If necessary, some modify their fleet, including more selective nets and more fuel-efficient engines. They must also support:

• Avoiding damage to shallow ocean floors from dragging heavy equipment
• Rotating the harvest of species to not over fish one population
• Employing new practices to lesson environmental impact

For Kanaloa, processing is part of sustainability. Sanitation and food safety are critical. Before entering the cutting room, I'm asked to step into a shallow pool of water containing bleach to decontaminate the bottom of my shoes.

As a biologist, Don elaborates: "Adding one more atom to oxygen creates ozone. Bacteria cannot live in an ozone environment, which creates a natural way to keep bacteria down to nearly zero. Ozone is injected into the water to clean the fish as its skinned, filleted and deboned and to sanitize the entire processing room."

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Surprisingly, the air in the processing room is sweet and clean. At every station, arrangements of glistening whole fish are transformed into various cuts. The streaming of water, the hissing of blades being sharpened, the rapid filleting is a symphony of efficient movement... no wasted energy, each employee proud of their work. I think they caught me in appreciation. Hours passed as they brought me fresh seafood to be photographed. No seafood waste is left behind... bait for the fishermen.

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For fishers, Don and Randee coordinate the business process including marketing, sales, and transportation. In partnership, they source a complete seafood portfolio while creating lasting relationships with fishing communities engaged in protecting their waters and livelihood.

For chefs, Randee says: "Chefs are so visual. They love seeing who's caught the fish, so I show them photos of the fishers who caught the fish being delivered. I enjoy empowering them to be a positive influence and a force in the movement."

This is a business that is serving many communities at once: "... doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, for the right reason, with the right feeling...every time."

Photography by Julie Ann Fineman