Catch of the Day: H & H Fresh Fish Co.
March 16, 2012
Shopping for fish can be an intimidating proposition for ethical eaters. Seafood is fraught with host of complex issues, such as species depletion, the impact of catch methods on marine ecosystems, environmental pollution from fish farming, and health concerns. "There's a lot of confusion out there about what's sustainable," says Hans Haveman, H & H Fresh Fish, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market's newest seafood vendor. "There is no direct way to simplify it."
Years as fisherman and fishmonger have helped Hans wade through seas of information and misinformation. He grew up with a love of diving, surfing, and sport fishing, and by age 12, he was taking people out on boats to fish for salmon and rockfish in the Monterey Bay. During summers in high school, he worked on commercial fishing boats, where he gained a broad view of the commercial fishing industry through crabbing, trawling, trolling, gillnetting, bob-and-reel, and hook-and-line operations. He also spent some time working in kitchens, including a stretch with Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles.
After buying his own salmon-fishing boat, he started selling his catch to fish buyers, but he eventually realized that there was a niche to be filled in Santa Cruz's burgeoning farmers markets, where concepts like "sustainability" were starting to take hold. With his wife and business partner, Heidi Rhodes, he started H & H Fresh Fish in 2003. "This was back when farmed salmon was taking over the market and pushing the cost of salmon so low that it was hard to make a living," says Hans. "When we started marketing our fish directly to the public, it opened doors for us."
In addition to catching some of his own fish, Hans now works with a fleet of local dayboat fisherman, some of whom he has known since childhood. Heidi manages the business side of H & H, as well as their community-supported seafood (CSS) program (available in the South Bay and Santa Cruz areas) and blog, which offers information and cooking tips on each week's species selection. "I try to do a little education for people about the fish and why it's sustainable," she says. "Sustainability is not so black-and-white."
Clearing the Waters
Besides the CSS program and a bit of wholesale marketing to restaurants, Hans and Heidi still sell most of their seafood at farmers markets (they currently have a presence at 17). They like direct marketing because it allows them to talk to consumers about the intricacies of sustainable seafood shopping.
There are a number of programs to help seafood lovers navigate these murky waters, such as the Marine Stewardship Council, which sets international standards for sustainable fisheries and seafood traceability through its certification and ecolabeling. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program's popular pocket guides rank seafood by best choices (those that are sustainably harvested or farmed), good alternatives, and species to avoid (those that are depleted or caught in ways that ecologically harmful).
Hans considers the education that he does at farmers markets to be a complement to guides like Seafood Watch, which don't always reflect what's seasonal and sustainable at a given moment. "I like to be a helping hand to the guides that are out there," he explains. All of H & H's market employees (some fishermen themselves) help with processing and packaging, so they are able to share first-hand knowledge as well.
Hans stresses that determining what's sustainable requires asking questions of your fishmonger, such as when and where the fish was caught, who the fisherman was, and what catch method was used. He tries to meet customers where they're at, share what he knows, and let them decide for themselves. "People have different ideas of sustainability or how sustainable they want to be. I'll be honest with them, and then they can make their own choices," he says.
Fishing for Alternatives
While much of H & H's seafood is caught within 50 miles of Santa Cruz, they also offer high-demand exotics like ahi and ono, which they source from hook-and-line fisheries in Hawaii. In the winter, they bring in wild salmon from Alaska. "Even though importing has a bigger carbon footprint, Alaska is still relatively close and is extremely well-managed," explains Hans. He also sources some fish through aquaculture operations that he considers to be sustainable, such as sturgeon from an antibiotic- and hormone-free caviar producer in Sacramento.
But for H & H, local sourcing is the key to making sustainable seafood choices. They may steer sustainability minded customers toward lesser-known catches, such as California halibut or California white sea bass (not to be confused with the endangered Chilean sea bass), or fish that are lower down the food chain, such as sardines and herring. According to Hans, "Best-case scenario is hook-and-line caught in the Monterey Bay, with zero bycatch."
What fish is he most looking forward to this spring? Salmon, of course. After a recent fishing ban due to depleted stocks, Pacific salmon is on the rebound, which means boats will be out in full force when the season opens on April 7. "It's one of our biggest Northern California fish that we all love, and it's gone from being a scary thing to coming back pretty strong," he says.
While fishing will always be his first passion, Hans keeps one foot on land to share his love for the sea and its delicate ecosystems with farmers market shoppers. "I'm able to help people figure out what are great fish to eat and to harvest sustainability." He adds, "And I'm able to share some great recipes, too."
H & H Fresh Fish starts tomorrow at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. You can find them in the back plaza every Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm.