Linking fishermen with customers is a passion for two longtime friends turned entrepreneurs
Showing off a just-caught lingcod.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KEN PAYTON
Food should not have to get on an airplane before reaching your dinner plate, according to Ian Cole and Charlie Lambert, founders of Ocean2Table, a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) based in Santa Cruz. Especially if it’s seafood. And especially if you live around the Monterey Bay.
“Seafood fraud is a major and widespread problem,” Cole laments. “The industry has some of the most falsified supply chains, and consumers are being lied to about everything from when it was caught to where it was caught to what species they’re actually purchasing. We wanted to create a CSF to combat that corruption, while also educating and connecting with our community.”
Before starting Ocean2 Table in 2014, Cole and Lambert, UCSC Environmental Studies graduates with a friendship rooted in fishing and surfing, worked in fishery management. Cole, 33, was as an observer with the West Coast Groundfish Observer Program run by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Lambert, 30, worked for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as a field biologist, studying the effects of recreational fishing on certain fisheries.
It was in these positions that many of their relationships with local fishermen began. “There’s so much trust that goes into sourcing,” Lambert says. “That’s why we morally feel the need to connect with every part of the supply chain in our business. We’re the ones offloading from fleets we’ve known for years in the Santa Cruz Harbor, or going out on our boat and personally catching fish, hook and line. We believe that we can build trust with our community through transparency and information.”
Information comes in the form of an incredibly comprehensive website, which includes sustainability notes on the various species they deliver and in-depth bios on the people and methods behind all the boats they source from, and from their emailed Fish Alerts with all the pertinent details (and then some) of their fresh-off-the-boat offerings. The Fish Alerts, which you can subscribe to through their website, are where you learn what fish is coming in when.
Ocean2Table—a partner of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program—is the most recent of three CSFs in our area. H&H Fresh Fish and Real Good Fish were started in 2003 and 2012, respectively. When asked about competition, Cole says the market for sustainably sourced seafood is nowhere near saturation and sweetly notes that “the rising tide floats all ships.” What is different about Ocean2Table is that although subscription packages are offered at a discounted rate, the majority of its business is one-time individual orders.
This means that the Fish Alerts simply give you the option to connect to an online market where you can purchase a half share ($15, feeds 1–2 people) or a full share ($25, feeds 3–4 people) of what you’d like, with no commitment to make further purchases.
Furthermore, the deliveries are not on a fixed schedule, but are instead based on when the boats come in, with the promise of delivering within a day of when the catch is unloaded. The online marketplace also ensures that people aren’t purchasing more than is sustainably possible. “Once we’re sold out,” Lambert explains, “we’re sold out. It helps to remind our customers that this is a finite resource.”
“We’re also really working on more equitable access,” Cole notes. “Seafood is expensive, but there are a lot of more affordable species out there that are healthy and sustainable. That’s why our Fish Alerts aim to expose the consumer to many different species and their benefits.”
“Seafood is expensive, but there are a
lot of more affordable species out there
that are healthy and sustainable. That’s why
our Fish Alerts aim to expose the consumer
to many different species and their benefits.”
Charlie Lambert and Ian Cole out for a day of fishing on Monterey Bay.
As an admittedly uneducated consumer, I’ve personally come to enjoy the Fish Alerts for their educational purposes alone—absorbing background and cooking methods on various species and tracking what’s most in season.
I used the service for the first time this past summer while researching this article. It was midweek and I had just left the Food Lounge commercial kitchen where Cole, Lambert and their team process and package. Lingcod, halibut and sablefish had come in that morning and were all on offer for next day pickup and delivery.
I ordered a full share of sablefish, a species I had always loved but had never cooked myself. My Fish Alert informed me that my fish had been brought into the Moss Landing port from the Sea Harvest and the catch method was bottom set line. By going to the Ocean2Table website I could further learn that the Sea Harvest is a fleet of several boats captained by the multi-generational Deyerle family, which uses traps and longline and tends to get very little bycatch when targeting sablefish, resulting in very little environmental disturbance. I learned that Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program gives it a rating of Best Choice and that my fillets would come skinned with some small pin bones and would weigh about 1.3 pounds.
I picked up my share the following day from a location right near my home in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz County has 18 pickup locations, many of which are the homes of long-time customers looking to support the business, and there is the option of home delivery for an additional $5. Ocean2Table also delivers throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
With this beautiful, buttery black cod now in my possession, I felt paralyzed as to how to properly prepare it. So I called chef Amanda Heyse, of Burn Hot Sauce, for some guidance. With unbridled enthusiasm, she demanded I bring the fish over immediately for an impromptu, late-night fish fry. While friends enjoyed a summer evening out on the front porch, Heyse and I whipped up a tempura batter, a giant herb salad, and a zesty aioli. Avocados and the sablefish were sliced and ready for a light and crispy coating.
We ate outside, packing the fish and avocados and other fixings into grilled tortillas. The fish retained its rich flavor and flaky, delicate texture—the tempura batter adding a salty and satisfying crunch. There were five of us, all fully sated (even the three dogs were able to feast on a fallen piece). I relayed all the information I knew about our fresh catch, exclaiming, “Guys! This was just caught yesterday!”
“Wow, really?” came a reply of genuine awe. “That’s amazing. I mean, what’s better than that?”
Rosie Parker, a native New Englander, likes to complain of missing home while living the Santa Cruz high life—surfing, hiking, writing and working for a delicious craft brewery.
Rosie Parker, a native New Englander, likes to complain of missing home
while living the Santa Cruz high life—surfing, hiking, writing and working
for a delicious craft brewery.