Tradition is respected in the ancient art of fishing, but, if Jeffery Wong has his way, many of those traditions are about to change.
Wong, formerly a commercial fisherman, is founder of Community Support Fishery (CFS), a smokehouse, custom cannery, and fish processing plant in Garibaldi, Oregon. His goal is to make commercial fishing greener and more sustainable while helping local fishermen earn a fair wage. And not everyone is happy about it.
Before Wong moved into the cavernous warehouse beside the busy Garibaldi marina, he worked for eight years fishing everything from salmon to lingcod along Oregon’s stunning coast. Like most commercial fishermen, he made a boom and bust living. He also saw fisheries depleted by overfishing and by fishing practices that caught and wasted non-targeted species (called by-catch). Wong thought there was a better way for both fishers and marine life and Community Supported Fishery was born.
In the yawning warehouse, the air is chilly. A worker in a bloodstained apron and elbow-length plastic gloves expertly slices into the belly of a freshly caught salmon, quickly removing the bones and cutting the red meat into thick fillets. He’s one of eight fishermen CFS employs who’d been laid off from the fishing industry. With help from Oregon’s Eco-trust, the company is working to re-train and re-employ displaced fishermen.
Behind the filet station are two ancient canning machines. When they aren’t processing fresh or fresh frozen fish for consumers and restaurants, they put the canners into production. “We’re a micro-canner focused on producing high-quality products,” Wong explains. “When we’re going full out, we can produce 1,600 cans a day.”
Their signature product is line-caught tuna that sells for $7/can. This is not your grandmother’s tuna. Unlike mass-produced flaked tuna, CFS’s tuna features big pieces of tuna filet that have a fresh briny flavor. CFS tuna uses Jacobsen Salt and Oregon Mill Olive Oil, both local products made by small producers. Jacobsen Salt, made just a few miles down the road, is the first salt produced in Oregon since explorers Lewis & Clark and has been hailed by foodies and restaurant chefs alike for its clean briny flavor. Oregon Mill Olive Oil is an company in the Willamette Valley that produces artisan oils.
In addition to its regular tuna, CFS produces small batches of tuna with garlic, white truffle oil, Japaleno and other flavors. They also can fresh and smoked salmon (?)and will soon begin canning mackerel and sardines.
Uber-Fresh, Sustainably Caught
Wong takes us out to a small building overlooking the water where the company’s two boats are moored. In addition to catching their own fish, CFS buys fresh fish from eight other fishing boats that dock here. Unlike massive factory boats that use nets that scrape the ocean’s bottom, which disrupts the eco-system and catches unwanted fish species that are wasted, these local boats are small and the fish are all line-caught.
“We know the full chain of custody for every one of our fish,” Wong says proudly. “We can tell you which boat caught it and when and where it was caught. We pay our fishermen premium prices for sashimi-grade fish that’s caught and delivered the same day.”
To ensure top quality, the fish are pressure bled, a process that pushes the blood out with air. “It produces a super-clean product and reduces bacteria,” he tells us.
About 15 restaurants currently purchase fresh fish from CFS and Wong will go to extraordinary lengths to deliver fish the same day they’re caught. Since many of his restaurant customers are in Portland, he pays the Tillamook Cheese bus that travels back and forth from the coast to Portland daily to deliver his fish. “The bus delivers the fish right to the bus station in Portland where our chefs can pick it up,” he tells us. “It’s good for the restaurants and reduces our carbon footprint because the bus is traveling there anyway.”
When one of his fishing boats traveled as far south as Brookings and had filled up with fish, rather than having the boat motor back to Garibaldi, Wong sent a van to pick up the fish. It enabled the fishermen to continue fishing and saved diesel fuel, a win-win-win for the fishermen, for the environment, and for his customers.
The only one in this scenario who wasn’t happy with CFS’s eco-friendly fish delivery was an old time fish buyer in Brookings. In the past, the fishermen would have faced the dilemma of a costly trip home to deliver their catch, forcing them to abandon a hot fishing streak or stay in the area and sell their catch to a buyer in Brookings at a low price. Wong’s willingness to buy the fish at a premium price and pick it up is a game changer.
He’s also interested in selling marine products that have long been snubbed by fishermen and consumers alike. “I’m want to develop new markets,” he says, holding two baseball sized cockles in his hands. “I’m interested in selling these cockles and clams to restaurants and consumers that have previously been used only for bait.”
He points to the purple varnish clam, an invasive species that was brought into Tillamook Bay on visiting ships. “It tastes like a baby razor clam,” he says, referring to the long, thin clam popular on Oregon and Washington coasts. “If we can market it, we can clean up the bay.”
Octopus is also on Wong’s radar as a marketable product. The tenacled creature is notoriously difficult to catch and most octopuses used in restaurants in the U.S. come from Spain. “That’s a huge carbon footprint,” he says.
He worked with marine authorities and now his boats catch octopus along with Dungeness crab and chefs love them.
Wong admits that sometimes his commitment to delivering uber-fresh product goes awry. They’d caught and delivered a live 40-pound octopus to one of their restaurant customers in Portland. During delivery, the cold environment kept the creature quiet, but, in the warm kitchen, the octopus woke up and wreaked havoc on the kitchen. “It took four strong chefs to pry it from under the table,” he says with a sheepish grin.
Now they humanely kill the creatures by putting them in the freezer before delivery.
One of Wong’s eco-goals is to make CFS zero waste. They’re working with area farmers to recycle fish blood into rich fertilizer.
While Wong’s Community Supported Fishery is a young company, his enthusiastic efforts to do things the right way has garnered support from both customers and the local community. And he’s producing products that are outstandingly delicious (see our review of CSF canned tuna). Now he just needs more people to know about it. – Story and photos by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor
If You Go
Visitors can stop by CSF, which is at the Garibaldi marina, and purchase fresh, frozen, smoked, or canned fish products.