West Coast Pilot – Culinary Workshop

A previous post outlined our pilot project in California with Changing Tastes; this post provides a peek into a culinary workshop that is part of the planning phase.


As part of our work to reintroduce local fish back into local markets in California, our foremost consideration is how to reintroduce them to our plates and palates. Without delicious dishes and high quality products, winning back a space on the plate will be impossible.

To discover how local fish can create a winning combination of flavor, presentation, and affordability for chefs in corporate dining, our partner Changing Tastes arranged a culinary workshop in California. More than a dozen chefs and several sustainability managers from the same or similar groups joined us in mid-November at a test kitchen in the Bay Area to develop the recipes and messaging needed to successfully bring back Californian West Coast Groundfish.

Palate and Pocket

To explore which fish could please both palates and pocketbooks, the chefs spent the morning preparing a sampling of locally-caught fish, including Dover and petrale sole, boccaccio, chilipepper and black gill rockfish, and sablefish (AKA black cod) provided by Real Good Fish. These fish represent the spectrum of species that are part of the West Coast Groundfish program, one of the most sustainably managed fisheries in the world, and one that has the fish to prove the stocks are  healthy. These are fairly common landings that span from very inexpensive Dover to higher-end sablefish. The variety of textures, thicknesses and tastes were highlighted in Latin and Asian-inspired themes, such as black gill fish tacos with mango slaw (Chef Ochoa), petrale-coconut ceviche (Chef Fogata), black and white coconut crusted black cod (Chef Thomas), and steamed Szechuan boccaccio (Chef Hernaez).

Heart and Mind

Equally important to taste and cost is persuading diners to try these new dishes. In a nearby space, restaurant industry marketing and communications executives as well as sustainability managers and representatives of groups that support sustainable seafood brainstormed marketing ideas for the dining spaces where the fish will be offered to diners next spring.

Common themes included emphasizing that the fish is locally-caught in California. They noted that “local” often implies fresh to diners. Including a map of the different ports where the fish originates from for the pilot, and identifying fishermen and women from each was another popular theme.

Marketing experts, chefs, sustainability managers and others agree on not using the word “groundfish” in marketing materials. This group and others realize that this collective term for these species isn’t one that necessarily appeals to diners, nor does it help them understand the diversity of species and flavors within the broad category.

Pilot Evaluation

Among potential evaluation methods and data points, our participants identified these as the most likely:

  • On-site, established food focus groups
  • Measurement of orders by volume
  • Gauging the relationship between price of dishes and purchases
  • Comparison to sales of other seafood dishes
  • Comment cards
  • Online commenting system
  • Surveys, potentially with incentives, and/or provided in a quick format via touchpad at the point of purchase
  • Querying the culinary team during and after the pilot


Post-workshop steps

Our next tasks are confirming which specific dining halls and cafes will participate from each of the corporate dining partners and confirming likely order volume by species or species group, e.g., petrale sole is a species and rockfish is a species group. Almost simultaneously, we will work with the corporate dining partner and their existing distributors to determine the likely sources, feasible start dates, and volumes. We look forward to sharing updates as this work progresses in 2018.



Identifying Blue Economy Opportunities & Threats

At the core of our work, we believe taking a value chain approach to investing in development is the most responsible and most sustainable. Interlaying this approach with the development of the blue economy will ensure proper assessment of opportunities and threats.

Blue Economy

No single definition of “Blue Economy” exists; like the word “sustainability”, answers are scattered and subjective. To economic theorists, it refers to a type of circular economy where nothing is wasted, but to those involved with oceans or fisheries work, it refers to development and use of marine resources, although even this definition is subjective.

The marine-focused usage of blue economy has numerous definitions and is interchanged with “blue growth”. Many, like WWF, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Bank Group include sustainable economic, environmental, and social outcomes, i.e., triple-bottom line outcomes, while others refer to all economic activity generated by maritime industries.

In March of 2015, John Tobin, Global Head of Sustainability at Credit Suisse said,

“The “blue economy” is about conducting economic activity in a way that is consistent with the long-term capacity of marine ecosystems to sustain themselves.”

Figure 1 Fishing vessels, California, USA
Credit: By specchio.nero (San Diego harbor) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Value Chain Approach

While Wilderness Markets’ employs the USAID Value Chain Approach, a value chain approach is, at its core, market systems approach to development. These approaches acknowledge that industries do not operate in a vacuum – outside forces, like governments, resource and labor availability, and similar industries – create a dynamic system in which value chains exist. The value chain approach seeks to understand these so that the principal constraints to competitiveness, which can lie within the system or the environment, can be understood and mitigated. Failure to do so can result in unsustainable growth or detrimental impacts.

Figure 2 Women harvesting seaweed, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Credit: Jada Tullos Anderson

Synergy of the Blue Economy and Value Chain Approach

One of the striking aspects of the multiple definitions of the blue economy is that the definitions imply a comprehensive approach to developing and using marine resources, aligning well with the value chain approach to development. Indeed, considering the main purpose of the value chain approach is to account for the dynamism of an industry or supply chain, then there can be no more perfect example of a dynamic business environment. The natural coastal and marine environment is always in flux and resource availability must be accounted for when considering the threats to a value chain. Similarly, global markets affect most marine-related activities and must similarly be considered when determining blue economy development pathways.

Figure 3 Women sorting catch, East Java, Indonesia
Credit: Jada Tullos Anderson


Integration of the blue economy and the value chain approach is well-suited to fisheries, aquaculture, maritime services, tourism, and, particularly, to locational development that integrates multiple sectors, such as fisheries, tourism and port development as the unique and common needs of each can be considered as part of a whole solution. This can be useful for government authorities as they seek to cost-effectively develop and regulate coastal areas. Funders and financiers may also be receptive to this approach as it allows simultaneous de-risking through diversity and bundling of financing to decrease transaction costs.

Figure 4 Honolulu and Waikiki Beach economy includes tourism, fishing and shipping, Hawaii, USA
Credit: Jada Tullos Anderson

Final Thoughts

The value chain approach naturally fits blue economy development, offering improved value to developers and funders, while adding to the sustainability of the marine environment for people, business, and nature.

The Finance Gap in Sustainable Wild Capture Fisheries

Over the past few years, three broad strategies have evolved to address the challenge of achieving sustainable wild capture fisheries. These consist of:

  • Addressing governance, regulation and policy
  • Providing preferential access to markets via certification mechanisms and Fishery Improvement Plans
  • Aggregating mission aligned capital

While each of these strategies have merits in and of themselves, they function best if their implementation is aligned, particularly in emerging markets where parallel or consolidated approaches are more likely to succeed than a serial approach. The implementation of these three strategies independently of each other often result in distortions that misalign incentives. As a consequence, this lack of alignment has resulted in few real world business examples or models that can effectively scale across fisheries, geographies and communities. Despite the attractiveness of economics of fisheries reform in at a macro level, the financial implications for practitioners in the real world have been challenging.

We especially note the development of mission aligned capital for sustainable fisheries in the past year. The Althelia Sustainable Oceans Fund and the Rare Meloy Fund are now either operational, or close to being operational. These new facilities represent important progress in this space.

While these represent important steps forward, they do not, as of yet, address the demands of current market conditions, particularly in emerging markets. Based on our field assessments in Asia, Latin America, parts of Africa and the United States, the reality is that the majority of the demand lies in defining, developing and testing sustainable fisheries instruments and models that may, one day, be eligible for the Meloy Fund or the Oceans Fund.

One sequence of fund development is to a) prove a concept, b) grow and refine and c) to deploy large scale capital (courtesy of Dalberg Global Advisors).

  1. Prove the concept – at this stage, practioners are testing financial instruments and models in a variety of settings with a wide variance of risk – returns and a great deal of tail risk. Transactions are often small, with high transaction costs, and with limited to no track record. While the Meloy Fund may most closely approximate these characteristics, the Funds requirements and relatively high return requirements and minimum transaction sizes remain a mismatch for the sector.
  2. Grow and Refine – at this stage, practioners are aggregating small scale proven models into larger vehicles; allocating and pricing risk appropriately; have a track record to demonstrate risk returns and an experienced team.
  3. Deploy Large Scale Capital – at this stage, practitioners are able to deploy large pools of institutional capital towards proven concepts; have more stable returns with lower tail risks and lower transaction costs as well as strong comparable track records for the sector and fund managers.

Based on our reviews, in the absence of financial instruments and model with documented and understandable risk, the sustainable wild capture fisheries sector appears to have a significant funding gap at the “Prove the Concept” stage. Resources are required to define these instruments and models, ideally with existing sector participants, many of whom are searching for approaches to transition NGO driven projects to investable entities with very limited success to date.

In reality, there is a significant pool of potential projects in the form of Fishery Improvement Plans, fishery projects, blue economy projects and alternative livelihood projects in many geographies. While Wilderness Markets has developed a systematic analysis of the potential investment opportunities in a number of fisheries, we have been struck by the rather random approach to this challenges and the lack of resources to systematically support the transition to investable entities that may, one day, be eligible for investment from the Meloy Fund or the Oceans Fund.