Dock to Dish is a network of fishermen, marine biologists and sustainable seafood advocates working together to promote local, traceable and low-carbon seafood.
With more than 90% of the seafood available in the U.S. being imported from overseas, Dock to Dish has worked for nearly a decade on the coastal frontiers of the local food movement, creating sustainable alternatives to industrialised seafood supply chains. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of our food supply chains into sharp focus and highlighted the important role that organisations like Dock to Dish play in creating a more stable and resilient system.
We caught up with Sean Barrett, Dock to Dish co-founder, to find out about their commitment to provide consumers with a clean, healthy and sustainable source of nutrition, and what drives him to keep campaigning for change.
Tell us about Dock to Dish ― what’s your mission?
Dock to Dish is an international network of small-scale fishermen, marine biologists, and sustainable seafood advocates working together in teams at ports and harbours across North and Central America. Our mission is to make local, traceable, low-carbon, wild seafood accessible to organised groups of cooperative members through our unique community and restaurant-supported fishery programs.
What drives you?
I am driven by a lifelong compulsion to provide families and communities with a clean, healthy and reliable source of nutrition from the ocean through a new Dock to Dish system that does not destroy these precious resources — but instead allows for steady regeneration.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
In the U.S. our healthcare system is reactive and largely designed to respond to illness after it develops. As a licensed healthcare professional, I was taught this reactive system through my degree and clinical training, but it always felt counter-intuitive, like the cart was in front of the horse.
By co-founding Dock to Dish, I have helped to create a proactive healthcare delivery system that provides tens of thousands of people with a source of fresh, wholesome nutrition which helps prevent illness and disease. That small victory represents the fulfilment of my most important goal in life and is my greatest achievement, so far.
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates
What challenges do you face?
From day one, we’ve had to grapple with the challenge of introducing a new supply-based membership model for local seafood sourcing into an old demand-based global market system which is very resistant to change.
Dock to Dish programs, in which the consumer abandons the traditional supermarket and instead receives fresh seafood by becoming a shareholder in their local fishery, is a radical behavioural and philosophical change for many people. Ultimately this challenge solves itself once Dock to Dish members experience the benefits of the program.
However, at this moment in history there are other challenges that won’t solve themselves, and there is no greater challenge to life on earth than climate change and a rapidly warming planet, although the sudden violent and lethal explosion of COVID-19 cases around the world has temporarily eclipsed any other challenges. Hopefully the upcoming US elections in November will provide us with an opportunity to bring science, reason, responsibility, compassion and common sense back into the equation for solving these challenges.
What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?
We are working with allies across numerous sectors to launch the most expansive Community Supported Fishery program in our history. This is an all-hands-on-deck initiative involving local organic farms, artisanal fishing fleets, chefs and restaurants joining together to carve new channels of local food distribution that feature a tiny carbon footprint and single digit chain of custody.
In this system, we encourage community members to sign up and become members of their nearest fishery and farm. They then receive weekly distributions of healthy, nutritious food directly from the farmers and fishers. The fish and produce are incredibly fresh and of the best quality, but the members are not allowed to demand anything or make requests, instead deliveries are driven by what is at peak harvest and most abundant, which is determined by the farmers and fishers. It is a radically different system than most folks are used to, but the benefits for the producers, the members and the local environment are vast.
Where do you want to take Dock to Dish next?
We are encouraging the model to expand around the world and have begun to see operations like ours come to life in places as far away as Fiji and South Africa. It is not so much a feeling of wanting to take Dock to Dish somewhere, as wanting to let the model and philosophy freely and organically expand into all corners of the world, especially into places where there needs to be push back against industrialised food systems and a return to healthy, secure and community-sourced food production.
What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?
The single most important thing we encourage people to do is to start the journey to become carbon neutral. This first requires developing an awareness of how and where you personally contribute carbon to the atmosphere and calculating that into numerical form, and then taking rapid and sometimes dramatic steps to lower those emissions until you get to zero.
If you arrive at the place where you have lowered your emissions as far as you can go and can’t get to zero by cutting emissions, urgently seek ways to offset the balance of your carbon footprint until it gets to zero.
At Dock to Dish we are working with CarbonFund.org to become a carbon neutral organisation in 2020 and are currently under a CO2 audit. We are also working with GreenWave.org to help develop 3D restorative kelp farms that will capture vast amounts of carbon and nitrogen from local waterways.
How is what you are doing inspiring change in others?
We are a small and humble group of motivated workers who are experimenting and exploring and exhausting ourselves day in and day out while chasing a dream to improve how our communities engage with the planet. I can’t say for sure that our work is inspiring change in others, except perhaps to provide a living example of what pursuit of passion looks like — and to demonstrate what it means to get knocked down but continually stand back up again and move forward.
Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?
Yes, for sure, there are three actually!
The first is The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber. He is a legendary and visionary chef in the U.S. who proposes the next generation of sustainable eating will be based in a type of food production rooted in the natural, seasonal cycles of produce. Barber’s book also functions as a guide to help people implement basic philosophies to eat healthier, especially in a post-pandemic world.
The second book I recommend is Eat Like a Fish. In the face of apocalyptic climate change, author Bren Smith, a former fisherman, shares a bold and hopeful new vision for saving the planet.
And the third book I would recommend is Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. In this book, bestselling author Paul Greenberg takes us on a culinary journey around the world, exploring the history of the fish that dominate our menus and investigating where each stands at this critical moment in time. By examining the forces that get fish to our dinner tables, he shows how we can start to heal the oceans and fight for a world where healthy and sustainable seafood is the rule rather than the exception.
Can you leave us with who’d be your eco-hero?
Carl Safina. Hands down, no contest. Carl is an old friend and mentor who has spent his life working to save the planet. He is a brilliant ecologist, and author of books and other writings about the human relationship with the natural world. Carl is probably the most authentic, respected and accomplished crusader for Planet Earth, and the first and only person who comes to mind when I think of the word eco-hero.
Interested to learn more about Dock to Dish? Click here to find out more about their work to improve sustainability and traceability in supply chains.
If you are a pioneer involved in creating a more sustainable future and have a story to tell, we would love to hear from you.
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