Interview: Martin Reed, “I Love Blue Sea”
Martin Reed is the founder of I Love Blue Sea, the first online seafood retailer totally committed to sustainability. And by defining this growing niche he is showing us what will be the norm in the near future.
SushiPRO How do the East and West Coasts of the US compare when it comes to awareness about sustainability?
Martin I can only really speak for the West Coast. I’m here in San Francisco which is sort of the epicenter of the sustainability movement, and it’s really exciting to be part of a movement that’s working to to save our oceans.
But seeing where our orders are shipping out to, we’re getting tons of orders from the East Coast and the Midwest and the Southeast even. It’s very encouraging to see people rallying around sustainable seafood. So while San Francisco may be the catalyst for the sustainable movement, everywhere in the US we’re seeing people jumping on board.
SushiPRO How is the catastrophe in the Gulf affecting your business?
Martin We sell only one product, gulf shrimp, from the Gulf of Mexico. We’re seeing prices increase and they will probably continue to going forward. If there is a positive outcome from this environmental catastrophe, let’s hope it’s that people realize the dire situation that the oceans are in.
I’d love to see selling sustainable seafood to become the standard for restaurants, instead of being a differentiator as it is today. Unless we embrace the alternatives that are sustainable, these foods will not be around in ten years.
SushiPRO Do you find that your customers need a fair amount of education or do they come to you already knowing a lot about making sustainable buying decisions?
Martin What I love about our site is that the onus of sustainability is on our shoulders. Everything on our site is sustainable. We try to be as transparent as possible and offer some useful information along the way.
SushiPRO What do you like to order when you dine in a sushi bar?
Martin Recently at Tataki I was introduced to sardines as sushi. It’s now one of my favorite fish. Because it’s so low on the food chain, it’s low in mercury, chocked full of Omega-3 and it’s sustainable and healthy. For those people who have only tried these from a can, I would strongly encourage trying this terrific fish.
SushiPRO When you visit a sushi bar do you ask the manager or sushi chef about the source of their seafood?
Martin I do, if they’re not too busy. And I encourage everyone to ask, and to avoid ordering certain items. Knowing where it’s from and how it was caught is asking a lot from a busy server on a saturday night.
Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide to steer you in the right direction. For example, always avoid farmed salmon, and since farmed oysters and mussels are filter feeders, they’re actually good for the ocean.
SushiPRO What did you eat for dinner last night?
Martin Chicken. For lunch I had some oysters and dungeness crab in a salad. I have seafood a couple times a week.
I’ve been eating oysters a lot lately because we’re trying to carry the biggest selection of them on the internet. Right now we’re carrying eleven types of oysters. They taste different depending on where they’re grown, much like wine grapes.
SushiPRO Did you eat a lot of seafood growing up?
Martin I did. Being in the bay area we have access to a great variety and good quality. It wasn’t something we ate every day. But growing up around seafood I always cherished it, and then when I moved to college down in Arizona, I realized that not only was there little selection but the quality was horrible.
SushiPRO Are you finding good, eco-friendly farming operations to source fishes from? (as opposed to shellfish)
Martin Definitely. Last year was interesting in that for the first time ever, more people ate seafood from farmed operations than seafood that was caught in the wild. There are definitely some sustainable operations.
For finned fish, it usually has to be closed containment. Farmed salmon is so bad because it pollutes the water, the fish escape and breed with wild salmon, it becomes a haven for sea lice which then attack the wild salmon that swim past, etc. Shellfish are usually very good if farmed in the open ocean.
For farmed fish a big issue is the ratio of protein in to protein out. Bluefin needs perhaps 25 pounds of fish in to produce one pound of fish, it’s inherently unsustainable. But we carry some great fish like steelhead trout and arctic char that are farmed. If the water and fish are clean and they’re given enough room then yes, it can be good.
SushiPRO What unexpected directions is your business taking you?
Martin Everything is more challenging then I expected. But we’re up and running and profitable and people are rallying behind us. Now I want to spread the gospel of sustainability, and have us become a player so we can exert pressure up the supply chain so that fisheries realize if they don’t make a responsible decisions they won’t be in business for long.
SushiPRO Do you prepare sushi at home?
Martin Absolutely. Sometimes I’ll buy mussels and make up a dynamite sauce with mayo and sriratcha and maybe some green onions and I’ll bake ’em for five minutes. I love oysters on the half shell. Fish – raw, cooked, grilled, however I can get it. I love seafood and it’s such a healthy and delicious meal. And if you’re buying sustainable seafood then you’re supporting the ones leading the recovery and showing the industry that it works; you can be profitable and sell sustainable seafood.