But he and partner Charlie Lambert are now readying their own 17-foot Boston Whaler for the spring and summer fishing season on Monterey Bay to add to the offerings of their fledgling community supported fishery, Ocean2table.
Cole started by buying freshly caught seafood from local boats that use eco-friendly fishing methods, and then selling and delivering it to customers. But as demand for his CSF’s goods have grown, so has Cole’s commitment to his craft.
Bringing his customers the freshest fish available is his gold standard— from the bay to the customer within 24 hours.
“There is a huge, noticeable difference in quality,” Cole said. “There’s no way anyone could get it any fresher, unless they’re meeting the fishing boat at the dock themselves.”
As local food culture grows ever stronger, so too have CSFs.
Nationally, the CSF movement has in recent years grown from a desire to promote sustainable local fisheries. The idea is to connect customers with extremely fresh fish and the fishermen who catch it while providing new markets and a fair price for fish caught with sustainable practices. Usually, CSF members commit to by fish on a subscription basis, as they would with the more common CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
Locally, Ocean2Table is the newest of three popular CSF programs, the others being H&H Fresh Fish and Real Good Fish (formerly Local Catch Monterey Bay). (See https://ediblemontereybay.com/online-magazine/fall-2012/out-to-sea-catch-this/ for more.)
Cole started Ocean2table in 2013 after doing a two-year stint as a marine fishery observer, going out on local fishing boats and keeping tabs on what was caught and how. That job led him to a new awareness of how fishing impacts sea life and the environment — for instance, how typical trawlers’ gear disturbs the sea floor, and how alternate methods such as rod and reel, traps and Scottish seine are gentler on fish populations and ecosystems.
“I had never worked around commercial fishing before or had seen the way that fish is caught,” said Cole, who got to know local captains and their methods quite well during that time. Bringing fish off the boats to give to his family also made him realize there was a business opportunity as well.
Lambert came on board shortly after Cole launched Ocean2table, and it’s his boat that is now the company vessel. “Fishing is near and dear to my upbringing and my heart,” said Lambert, who like Cole majored in environmental studies at UCSC.
Cole and Lambert will start fishing May 1 for ling cod, sea bass and sand dabs. Along with what they buy from other boats, they end up processing about 300 pounds of fish a week, said Lambert. It sounds like a lot of fish, but Lambert doesn’t seem to mind: “We’ll do it as long as we have the ability to do it. We’re not looking to outsource anything we can do on our own.”
They send out a “fish alert” email to customers about six times a month to let them know when the seafood is coming, and what it is; deliveries are dependent on when boats return to port. Customers can buy shares in either a one-off basis or through a subscription for $25 and in return get between 1 and 2 pounds of seafood, which is then delivered to drop-off sites in Santa Cruz, Soquel and Palo Alto or delivered to customers’ homes for an additional $3. (Home deliveries will be made as far as Aptos.)
Cole and Lambert process their fish at Santa Cruz Food Lounge’s facilities, where they are tenant collaborators, and the newly opened foodie resource center was also the site of the Ocean2table’s first “Pescetarian Pop-up” dinner on April 12. The event sold out, with 50 happy diners feasting on sablefish caught near Moss Landing, accompanied by organic produce from Scotts Valley’s Crescent Farm and hot chocolate by Santa Cruz’s Murari.
The word about Ocean2table has also spread organically, and now more than 300 customers are on its email list. Cole said he hopes to expand drop-off and delivery around the rest of Monterey Bay when there’s enough demand.