Dock to Dish Prepares New Seafood-Tracking System

Capt. Bruce Beckwith, in the foreground, with Capt. Charlie Etzel, standing, and First Mate Jeremy Gould — three of the Montauk fishermen who work with Dock to Dish to supply fresh seafood to regional restaurants Lindsay Morris

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your shipments of iced-down, black sea bass are? Or perhaps you want to check on the status of the longline boat that is catching your carton of golden tilefish from the 500-foot depths of the Hudson Canyon, located about 80 miles south of Montauk? For those who demand the freshest, most sustainable seafood, and partake in the increasingly popular and expanding Montauk-headquartered Dock to Dish community-supported fishery program, keeping an eye on your seafood order is a simple mouse click away. 

“More and more people want to know where, when, and how their fish are caught,” explained Sean Barrett, a fisherman and restaurateur who founded the cooperative fishery program in 2012. “Our motto is ‘know your fisherman’ and that has not changed. Members of Dock to Dish can check in real time the status of their catch from the beginning of the fishing trip all the way until it is delivered by hand right to their doorstep. It’s just one of the many enhancements we have made since we started.”

This year Mr. Barrett hopes to improve the fishery marketplace by having the world’s first live tracking dashboard so that end consumers on land can monitor hauls of wild seafood from individual fishermen at sea in near-real time. Named Dock to Dish 2.0, the new technology bundle was created in partnership with several fish tracking companies, including Pelagic Data Systems, Local Catch, and Fish Trax. Once completed, the bundle will be open-sourced, meaning it can be replicated and used by all independent small and medium-scale fisheries operations around the world. 

“Dock to Dish 2.0 is the first public-facing system to ever combine vessel and vehicle tracking with geospatial monitoring technologies on an interactive digital dashboard,” Mr. Barrett explained last month as he unloaded a catch of tilefish just outside the kitchen door of Nick and Toni’s, one of the first members of Dock to Dish’s restaurant-supported fisheries program. Fishing boats will be outfitted with solar-powered automatic data-collection monitors and application-specific wireless sensors. 

“The advancement represents a fulfillment of our vision to establish interoperability of traceability technologies in the seafood sector, and pioneer the most advanced electronic fishery database and information platform ever brought to market by an independent grassroots operation.” When up and running, Dock to Dish 2.0 will serve as a tool to provide clear, verifiable source and supply information, with tamper-proof digital assets to its members in near-real time.

Dock to Dish’s mission from the start was to make local, traceable, low-impact wild seafood accessible to organized groups of cooperative members through community and restaurant supported fishery programs. And those who are fortunate to be a member of the Dock to Dish program (there is a long waiting list to enter) are ensured they will receive the freshest, most local seafood possible. 

Since its founding, Dock to Dish has moved well beyond its foundation on the easternmost part of Long Island into an international network of small-scale fishermen, marine biologists, and sustainable seafood advocates working in teams from nearly 10 ports and harbors, including in Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, and Washington, D.C. Participants from Fiji and Panama will join this year. 

The demand for fresh, sustainable seafood is soaring. According to Mr. Barrett, more than 90 percent of the seafood entering the United States marketplace is being imported from overseas, and more than 50 percent of it is farmed fish from foreign aquaculture sources.

“Of the wild-caught seafood that the U.S. imports, approximately 30 percent is sourced through illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing operations in countries that have little or no regulations,” he said. “To top it off, about 2 percent of all imports are inspected by the F.D.A. before they enter the domestic food supply. And of that percentage they actually check, 70 percent are rejected. The quality control overseas is very poor. Today, more and more people want to know where their seafood is harvested and by what method.”

“When I was growing up, we would catch our fish that morning and have it for dinner,” added Mr. Barrett, who is also an appointed member of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Marine Resource Advisory Council. “The concept of Dock to Dish is basically the same principle.”

Unlike the traditional fish-handling process driven by cash and credit cycles, which can involve more than half a dozen sources before it reaches the end consumer, Dock to Dish members enter into short-term futures contracts with their local fishermen, and pay their membership dues in advance. Members are then entitled to a set volume of premium local seafood or “shares” that are systematically distributed over the course of a given season. The shares are supplied exclusively from the freshest and most carefully handled hauls of the most local and most abundant seafood that is landing in whichever respective port or harbor has been designated for that region. At first, Dock to Dish also offered individual or family shares, but that part of the program was suspended.

Dock to Dish deals with about 25 fishing captains out of Montauk, of which about 10 secure some 70 percent of the catch, Mr. Barrett said. Participating fishermen include Capt. David Tuma of the tilefish boat Kimberly, Capt. Terry Wallace of the inshore dragger Night Moves, Capts. John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski of the lobster and Jonah crab boat Anna Mary, and Capt. Ron Onorato of the Captain Ron, a pin-hooker who operates his own charter boat.

“Other than golden tilefish, which is caught year-round, Montauk is considered a seasonal fishery, unlike other ports like we have in California, where more fish are available 12 months of the year.” Mr. Barrett also said that he purchases fish from those who fish pound traps from Shinnecock Bay all the way to Montauk. 

Many of the most discerning customers when it comes to seafood, its freshness, and its origins are restaurants. A number of high-end Manhattan establishments like Blue Hill, Le Bernardin, and Per Se have been dealing with Dock to Dish for several years. Google’s Manhattan headquarters in Chelsea has been a client of the cooperative for the past four years and serves its catch to employees. In addition, several South Fork restaurants, including Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton and Almond in Bridgehampton, have participated in the program from its inception. 

“The quality of the seafood we receive from Sean is unparalleled,” said Joe Realmuto, the executive chef of the Honest Man Restaurant Group, whose South Fork eateries include Nick and Toni’s and Rowdy Hall. Nick and Toni’s was the very first customer to get involved with Dock to Dish. “It’s important that we have the freshest product, and Dock to Dish ensures that we have the best, sustainable, quality seafood available. They have been a terrific, reliable partner for us.” 

“It was not easy getting started,” Mr. Barrett said. “If it wasn’t for the patient mentoring and steady guidance we have received from him from the very beginning and through the years, we could never have come so far.”

Mr. Barrett also owes inspiration to Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, one of the oldest community supported agriculture programs in the country. “Scott Chaskey, the farmer at Quail Hill, was a true inspiration to me,” recalls Mr. Barrett. “He wrote this amazing book called ‘This Common Ground,’ which was about the lifestyle of organic farms as well as community-supported agriculture.”

“His book really inspired me, and I went and I met with him, and we talked about whether it was possible to create a community-supported fishery,” added Mr. Barrett. “As we see the Dock to Dish model now flourish in so many places, it was Scott who told us from the beginning that ‘deep, strong roots are essential to growing long, strong branches.’ His words were so true.” 

“Over the past five years we have worked on the coastal local food movement, creating new alternatives to old industrialized seafood supply chains,” Mr. Barrett said. “Across this broad spectrum, our place-based sourcing initiatives have created new trails toward the restoration of transparency and sustainability in ocean-driven cuisine and the wild seafood marketplace at large.” 

“It has been very gratifying to see the progress we have made,” he smiled.

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Joe Realmuto, left, the head chef of Nick and Toni’s restaurant, and Sean Barrett of Dock to Dish toting in a catch Jon M. Diat
Rudi Bonicelli, seen cleaning fish, was an original founder of Dock to Dish. Brendan McCarthy