First part of two parts, please click hyperlink at bottom to continue to the next part
Early every Wednesday morning at Santa Monica Farmers Market, many of this region’s chefs buy fruits and vegetables directly from farmers for dishes on their respective restaurant’s menus. Here at this market and others throughout the region, chefs directly connect with farmers for locally grown produce. Thus these chefs know where and how that food was grown. Many of this regions chefs have similar connections with the local ranchers therefore chefs also understand how the pork, chicken, beef and other meats they source were raised. However, despite being a coastal community in close proximity to many productive fisheries, sourcing of local sustainable seafood in Los Angeles, for a variety of reasons, is a much more difficult and disconnected endeavor.
Many chefs get their fish and other seafood from purveyors like Santa Monica Seafood, International Marine Products (IMP), and Los Angeles Fish Company that are often shipped to Los Angeles from all around the world. Thus that branzino (also known as loup de mar) on so many menus is a farmed fish from Greece and the Hamachi crudo is another farmed fish from Japan. So understanding where all the different varieties of fish and other seafood come from, how it was raised, caught and processed isn’t always as direct a connection as it is for produce and meats. Chefs don’t necessarily know their fish farmers.
In an effort to provide that fisherman to plate connection for chefs with greater transparency for restaurant patrons and other consumers, Captain Ben Hyman of Wild Local Seafood Co. started to sell fish directly to both chefs and the public at the Wednesday and Saturday Santa Monica Farmers Market and the Sunday Mars Vista Farmers Market last year in March of 2014. All of the seafood that Captain Ben sells is certified local and wild plus seasonally and sustainably caught. Here at these markets, Ben has connected with LA chefs including Union’s Bruce Kalman, Hatchet Hall’s Brian Dunsmoor, Rustic Canyon’s Jeremy Fox and Melisse’s Josiah Citrin to name just a few. Thus these chefs can be completely confident about the origins and sustainability of the seafood they are serving in their restaurants to their guests. According to Captain Ben, a big part of Wild Local Seafood Company’s mission is to entice, aggravate, and motivate local chefs to use these local seafood products. As Ben emphasized, “traditionally a chef in Italy or France living down by the Ocean didn’t have a truck pull up and sell him frozen basa from Vietnam. A chef in Italy saw the fish, and knew his fisherman like he also got in touch with the fruit, and knew the guy who grew it. He met the rancher who actually knew what the cattle ate.”
Ben and his team have also been interfacing with consumers to help educate them about the ecological and health benefits of eating locally caught wild seafood. His team includes environmental studies students via an internship program Ben has cultivated with a number of schools. Over the last two years Ben has had interns from UCLA, USC as well as almost thirty students from UCSB his Alma matter. By working for Ben’s company, students get a firsthand experience working for an ecologically minded for-profit business that gives these students a taste of the real world.
Prior to going to UCSB and graduating with a Certificate of Basic Education to teach in the state, Ben started working on fishing boats when he was sixteen. Born and raised ten minutes from the ocean, Ben has lived about the same proximity from the ocean his entire life. By the time he was out of high school, fishing was a job that he continued to pursue while in college. After graduating from UCSB, instead of pursuing a teaching career Ben went back to fishing full time where he worked on a number of boats and fished for nearly twenty different species of fish. Prior to creating his company, every experience he had working as a fisherman was on a hook and line boat. Now these fishing boats are referred to as a sustainable vessels. So this meant no gill netting or trawling. Ben has always fished in a sustainable way ensuring a future for the different species he has caught and is catching. So ultimately Captain Ben was able to blend together all that he learned from his time spent in marine biology, history, and econ classes with all the real world experiences he acquired fishing to create his Wild Local Seafood Company.
As Ben explained, “the Wild Local Seafood Company isn’t just about supporting me and the way I fish but it is basically about promoting local fisherman and local fisheries so that we don’t import non-sustainable goods. This is what’s happened over the last two decades with shrimp, basa, and salmon. Now even tuna are in the pins. We’ve found a way to homogenize these things so that we can farm raise them, turn them into a commodity, and even trade them on the stock market. Look at shrimp, you can trade them plus produce them so you can get them year round with the costs down. Well we got products here in this state which we should be using that are better for the environment, and local fisherman.”
Ben continued, “I once heard the industry standard of seafood is that there is no standard, and I am here to change that. I’m here to try and get chefs to use products that are better for the environment, and better for local fishermen. I’ll tell you what, sometimes it takes a little more energy coming to a farmer’s market, but if they’re in a restaurant where their gross or nightly sales are equaling a certain number and they are putting themselves across as a certain type of business, I feel they should be going out of their way or, at least, sending a sous or one of the guys in the kitchen to source sustainably harvested local seafood .”
Both extremely passionate and aware, Captain Ben answers every question posed to him with enough energy and content to write a book or two. In the next part of this profile, a lot of this content regarding the environment, the impact of fish farming and many other issues is discussed in more detail. .
End of Part 1, click here to continue to Part 2.