Two Major Innovations From Two Local Companies Are Changing the Way We Eat Fish In Portland

They’re pioneering vegetarian fish feed and a new boat-to-table, community-supported fishery that may pave the way for a sustainable future for seafood.

Your grandchildren might never eat a tuna salad sandwich. They might not even know what it is.

By 2050, some scientists predict, most species of saltwater fish will either be extinct or exist in such small quantities it won't make sense to fish for them.

Two startups are trying to change the way we eat fish in Portland. They're pioneering vegetarian fish feed and a new boat-to-table, community-supported fishery that may pave the way for a sustainable future for seafood.

The list of overfished species is long: cod, halibut, shrimp, tuna, lobsters, mackerel, bass, swordfish, just to name a few. Just 10 types of fish account for nearly 90 percent of the world’s fish consumption, and all but a few types are either at or over fishing capacity.

And in an industry that's intentionally gray in terms of labeling and quality control, illicit fishing slides by. According to Marine Policy, between 20 and 32 percent of the United States' wild-caught seafood imports are illegal.

And it matters here, not just for our pseudo-sustainable, non-practicing pescatarian lifestyles, but because in the Northwest, we're part of the six ocean regions that together, catch 47 percent of the world's total marine catch.

(Joe Riedl) (Joe Riedl)

TwoXSea is one of the few 100 percent traceable fisheries in the world.

"We only buy directly from captains who we know, because we know how they're fishing," says Lauren Vannatter, a former San Francisco sous chef who quit her job to run TwoXSea's expansion to Portland last year.

Portland and San Francisco are the only cities where TwoXSea is offering its fish to restaurants.

TwoXSea delivers about 1,000 pounds of fish a week to a very select group of local restaurants, most of which are featured in the top 50 in our annual Restaurant Guide, which was published this week, including Renata, St. Jack, Castagna, Tasty n Alder, Toro Bravo, Kachka, Jacqueline and Paley's Place.

(Joe Riedl) (Joe Riedl)

But at a fish farm on Central Oregon's tiny Summer Lake, TwoXSea is pioneering a revolutionary vegetarian fish feed that Vice has called "the most important idea in sustainable seafood."

Related: Vegetarian Fish Are Coming to Portland

The carnivorous model for how most farmed fish are fed is unsustainable, says Vannatter. These fish are fed forage fish like mackerel or herring, which deplete the ocean's supply still further and subject farmed fish to the same risk of toxic mercury buildup as predatory fish like marlin and shark.

Company co-founders Kenny Belov and Bill Foss came up with the idea for vegetarian feed in 2009, but it's taken years to hone the recipe that gives fish the right balance of nutrition. They finally developed a blend of red algae with nut and seed oil that seemed promising. Still, they needed to test it on a large scale—so they got a list of trout farms in California and started cold-calling.

There were two things most farmers wanted to know.

"Is it more expensive?" Of course it is. It's about $1 more per pound.

"Will it make my fish bigger?" Probably not.

TwoXSea heard a lot of "no," until it called a fish farmer near Lake Tahoe named Dave McFarland, who soon signed on with the company.

When TwoXSea outgrew McFarland's farm, it leased from Desert Springs Trout Farm, where the company now has a full-scale operation.

McFarland raises about 30,000 pounds per year of the state's only commercially farmed trout that has not fed on other fish.

"It really is the future of people being able to eat fish," Vannatter says. "I don't think anyone else is doing it."

(c/o Jeff Wong) (c/o Jeff Wong)

Another plan is to bring the concept of farm-to-table beef and produce to seafood. Oregon's CS Fishery, founded by fisherman Jeff Wong in 2013, is helping pioneer boat-to-table seafood.

Wong had a commercially licensed sport boat, and he wanted to sell his fish to restaurant chefs. But he couldn't legally sell fish without first going through a processing plant. If he did that, he'd have no means of tracking the fish from one end of the plant to the other, meaning his catch could get mixed with fish from fishermen who don't use sustainable methods.

Wong realized he needed to open his own facility. He now works with more than 30 boats along the coast, and has an internal processing facility that allows him to oversee the fish from ocean to restaurant. CS Fishery's Portland clients include New Seasons Market, Higgins, Holdfast and Ava Gene's.

Now, Wong wants to sell directly to consumers rather than to restaurants, where he says they're not always honest about the fish they sell.

(c/o Jeff Wong) (c/o Jeff Wong)

"I've had people use my name, brand and story for a product that was not ours," he says. "Sometimes I get too idealistic. But at the same time, I have to hold true to the mission. [Restaurants] may run out of our fish. There's been a huge amount of publicity about the mislabeling of seafood products, and that trickles down to the local level, too."

Wong wants to go back to his door-to-door model, allowing him to interact directly with consumers.

Another way would be to start a restaurant. Earlier this year, Wong teamed up with Andrew Mace, former sous chef at Le Pigeon, ranked No. 1 in WW's Restaurant Guide, to open a Portland food cart called Maritime. It closed after a week, with an announcement there would be a brick-and-mortar spot coming in 2018. Wong says the restaurant won't include Mace.

Related: Le Pigeon Is the No. 1 Restaurant in Portland

"Andrew is a great guy, he's very talented, but I need something to represent the coast," he says. "I needed my product in its purest form to showcase what we're doing [on the Oregon Coast]. I wanted coastal favorites to do that. Unfortunately, Andrew was doing fried rice with the shrimp, and Japanese hand rolls with our crab mixed in with the mayo. It was good, just not something anyone could come down here to get."

Wong says the restaurant might specialize in fish and chips—which would make it the second boat-to-table fish and chips shop in town, after Woodstock's Portland Fish Market.

Of course, fish from TwoXSea and CS Fishery costs more, but local chefs recognize the need for high-quality product.

"The Portland fish game has not changed for years. Having a new fish purveyor in town is really exciting because they have more sustainable stuff," says chef Derek Hanson of Jacqueline, ranked No. 41 in WW's Restaurant Guide. "It definitely is a little bit more expensive, but we have slightly higher menu prices for those great products. I'm paying a little bit more for great fish."

Vannatter says the higher prices are not just from ensuring the sustainability of the fish, but also from paying fishermen fairly.

"Our bottom line is education and sustainability over dollar signs," Vannatter says. "Fishermen are using specific gear and can only catch so many fish instead of using nets. So we want to pay our fisherman more at the docks, and that increases our prices."

But as ocean stocks become depleted, the gray market still represents the vast majority of fish sold in Portland.

"I think we have a long way to go," Vannatter says. "I represent a small amount of Portland restaurants. A lot of chefs probably think they're making good decisions. But they're not."

(Joe Riedl) (Joe Riedl)
(Julie Showers)


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