Disrupting the supply chain – for the better!

Innovation fascinates me – there is surely something in the human psyche that compels us to continuously examine the world around us and to incessantly ask the question “Is there a way this can be done better?”

Uber is a great example of how re-thinking an old established business model can revolutionize an industry and produce a service that offers the customer a better overall experience.

Our household recently discovered and signed up for another service that is attempting to turn a long-established sector of the economy on its ear. It is SKIPPER OTTO, a company, or rather, a community-supported fishery, dedicated to disrupting the fishing industry, and its traditional supply chain.

Presently the vast majority of BC’s fishing fleet fish for one guy, Jimmy Pattison, who controls Canfisco, the largest company in the industry. It controls the coast through its ownership of boats, of processing facilities, but more importantly, of quota. At the heart of BC’s complex system of fisheries management is the Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ), which allocates the entirety of the ever-declining commercial catch.

ITQ’s, which can be bought, sold or leased, have become a valuable financial asset in their own right and have attracted corporate interests to the sector, given that it is more profitable to own and lease a quota than to actually fish it. They also represent a significant barrier to entry for young independent fishermen wanting to enter the industry. Purchasing quota, in addition to a boat and gear, is a huge capital outlay.

The result has been an extreme consolidation of the industry, with every step of a long supply chain, from netting the fish to processing them, as well as wholesale and retail distribution, all falling under large corporate control.

Skipper Otto (the company is named after Otto, an independent fisherman who enlisted the help of his business and tech-savy family to help him bypass the middlemen, and get his catch to market, for a fair price) is a membership-based, community-supported fishery.

Members share the catch from the independent fish boats they sponsor, by pre-purchasing a set amount of seafood each year, leaving the fisherman free to start his season knowing he has an assured, and direct, sale for his catch. Essentially, independent fishermen are funded by the membership, not their friendly local billionaire. The catch is flash frozen, packaged and distributed directly to the members, who pick up from Vancouver’s Fisherman’s Wharf or from local drop-off points.

We started off with a modest $400 annual commitment, and monthly go onto Skipper Otto’s website to select what we want – so far we’ve sampled prawns, salmon, halibut and hake, and tomorrow will attempt scallops for the first time. The product comes frozen, in meal sized portions, and is labelled with the name of the boat, where the seafood was harvested and a photo and background of the skipper who caught it. We pick up our share at a local health food store, which provides the pick-up service gratis (in hopes of making collateral sales) and cook it with the help of recipes and cooking tips from the company website.

The product has been excellent, the pricing beats the hell out of supermarket prices. And it is a nice feeling to know that dinner came directly from Scott, or Doug, who caught it and froze it, to our table.

Categories: Reflections | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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