The fishing industry is rife with stinky stories of mislabeled, low-grade fish being sold as something fancier for a flashier price, or varieties moving to the endangered species list due to overfishing. With so many fish to track and a fluctuating population, it’s hard for any consumer to keep up. You’d like to trust that anything in your local grocery is fair game, but it’s not.
Organizations like Monterey Bay Aquarium have developed consumer guides like Seafood Watch to help folks make more conscious choices. But when was the last time you shopped for seafood and whipped out your pocket seafood guide? Oops, did you leave it at home yet again?
Anna Larsen, a formally trained opera singer and lover of seafood, wanted to take the guessing game out of purchasing sustainable seafood by delivering it right to your door. Her concept echoes the community supported agriculture produce model in which the customer agrees to pay up front for a share of a farmer’s harvest and in return receives a regular box of produce fresh from the field. Larsen created Siren Fish Co. as an ocean-to-fork program that operates from a similar boat. Customers pay for for shares in advance and then receive a box of freshly caught, local and sustainable seafood each week.
Her operation just opened a pick-up site at Oak Park Brewing Co., where customers can select from the mixed-variety box with unique species like nigh smelt and ling cod, or during salmon season (which is now), you can select an all-salmon box. But you can’t just show up and hope to find fish. You need to go to the website and sign up in advance. Pick-ups will be available at that site every Tuesday.
Larsen keeps a keen eye on the ever-changing fish landscape. She checks her Twitter feed each morning to read the latest in sustainable seafood news. She’s also on the phone regularly with fisherman on the docks in Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg. She keeps a close eye on who’s going out and for what fish so she can plan her buying. She’s got a tight turnaround: Her goal is to bring seafood from ocean to your table in 72 hours. Few grocers can claim the same.
In fact, when asked why her CSF is different from shopping at the grocery fish counter, Larsen says speed and freshness are just two factors. Her favorite reason: variety.
“We can get things that spoil really quickly that you’d never see at a fish counter, like anchovies and sand bass,” Larsen says.
An email to her subscribers details Siren Fish Co.’s recent CSF contents — all fish that are currently in season. Just like tomatoes and asparagus, seafood species have seasons. Recently, items like ling cod, sablefish, night smelt and sea urchins made the list alongside ever-popular salmon. Because seafood literacy is an ongoing task for Larsen, her newsletters also provide cooking tips, recipes and basic fish facts. She says her customers tend to be “really good at life,” so she knows they want to learn and are paying attention to her research.
Larsen has a school of seafood insights to share with customers. Her biggest tip is to buy local.
“If you do one simple thing: Buy locally caught and processed seafood. Our [American and West Coast] fisheries are among the best managed in the world,” she says.
So, how did a trained opera singer become one of the area’s strongest allies for seafood sustainability? After a successful but stressful career in music, she wanted a switch. She took a job working for a large fisheries company, and that’s where she got hooked. She built Siren Fish Co. in 2011 and hasn’t looked back.
She shares the same concerns that we all do about eating food that’s good for both our health and for the planet. “I’m not a marine biologist, so I’m not qualified to have an opinion,” Larsen says. “But I do think it’s comforting that someone is paying attention.”