Skipper Otto Makes Buying Fair Trade, Sustainable Seafood Easy

The British Columbia project delivers seafood all over Canada with an innovative community membership programme, in which people pledge to buy the fish before it is caught.

19.05.2020 | by Christy Romer
Photo of Otto's son, Shaun Strobel, who set up Skipper Ottos with his wife Sonia. Photo on The Globe And Mail
Photo of Otto's son, Shaun Strobel, who set up Skipper Ottos with his wife Sonia. Photo on The Globe And Mail

Oh how the fishing industry has changed. What was once the preserve of independent fishing families and plentiful catches has become the domain of massive corporations and convoluted supply chains. Tonnes and tonnes of fish are wrenched from the ocean floor with heavy, damaging machinery, gobbling up and killing unwanted species as ‘bycatch’.

This dangerous overfishing has decimated populations of sardines in California, anchovies in Peru, herring in the North Atlantic. In Canada, once celebrated for the quality of its fishing waters, 17% of fish populations are now in a critical state and less than 30% of fish populations are considered healthy.

There’s dire need to rewrite our relationship with the seas — to find a new way of supporting sustainable fishery.

Enter Skipper Otto Community Supported Fishery. The British Columbia business supports dozens of independent fishing families across Canada, and promises consumers in the country sushi-grade fish, canned and smoked seafood throughout the year.

The organisation was set up in 2008 to help a small-scale fisherman — Otto — get a fair price for his catch and “connect directly with seafood lovers.”



At the heart of the project is an innovative community membership programme. After a quick sign up to the website, people choose a ‘share price’ — how much fish they’d like to buy that season. The idea is to buy the year’s catch before the fishing is done, so that the families know how much to catch. The site recommends that for a two-person household, which eats fish 2-3 times a month, allocating $300 a year.

The community members are then advised on what the most abundant and sustainable choices are each year, before spending their already allocated budget on a range of popular favourites and lesser-known delicacies. These include salmon and halibut, and treasures like pink scallops and lingcod.

Skipper Otto is big on providing transparency to consumers and ensuring the long-term health of the marine ecosystem — particularly by matching consumption to the rhythms of nature and place. Skipper Otto stresses that the fish are “caught and handled with honour.”

It also takes pains to pay the partner fishing families a living wage.

“Disrupting the seafood system means you’ll get your seafood a little different to what you may be used to,” Sonia Strobel, Skipper Otto’s co-founder and CEO, adds in an explanatory video. Strobel was selected as a recipient of one of SheEO’s radical generosity awards in 2016.

And that’s it! Skipper Otto doesn’t own the boats, licenses or quotas for any of its partner fishing families. The fishers go out, catch the required amount of fish in sustainable ways, then deliver it to local shops near consumers for collection. Easy.

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