Dock to Dish Unveils New Tracking System

Rudi Bonicelli filleting a fish on the dock. Brendan McCarthy photo

It’s a long way from holding filleting marathons every week to ensure that customers get their orders of fresh fish on time, to using state-of-the-art tracking software to monitor fishing boats at sea to find out when that fish will actually be landed, but that’s the trajectory of Dock to Dish.

Sean Barrett, who helped found the cooperative in Montauk in 2012, said the original idea was to provide customers with a steady supply of fresh fish caught locally. But in those six years, the program has grown from one that primarily served individuals on the East End to one whose reach is now extending to a growing list of restaurant clients around the world.

“Increasingly, chefs want to know just when their fish was caught and where it is in transit,” Mr. Barrett said last week. To help picky chefs keep tabs on their orders, the company has launched Dock to Dish 2.0. which will allow customers to track their order in much the same way as a customer tracks a parcel from Amazon or FedEx.

“It’s very simple to use,” Mr. Barrett said of the system, noting that customers can simply go to the Dock to Dish website and click on “live tracking” and they can learn where their seafood came from, who caught it, how they caught it and how it was processed.

The idea of tracking vessels at sea is an old one, Mr. Barrett added, “but when the fish hits the dock, it just disappears. Nobody knows where it goes.” Dock to Dish’s new system will allow customers to follow their fish from the shore to the kitchen door. “We are restoring faith in the marketplace,” he said.

Mr. Barrett got the idea for Dock to Dish from the Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, or more specifically, the writings of Scott Chaskey, the farm’s director. “I liked the idea of community supported agriculture and wondered if we could translate it to fisheries,” he said. “The fundamentals of our model are really different than anything else in the seafood realm. The global market operates in a convoluted circuitous way, so that although Long Island is surrounded by water, over 90 percent of our seafood is imported.”

“Our motto is ‘Know your fisherman,’’ Mr. Barrett said. “We want to connect the community with the actual fisherman who is out there doing the work.”

Rather than try to meet the demand of clientele, who might have a taste for striped bass when the fish are nowhere near the East End, Mr. Barrett said Dock to Dish focused instead on catching the fish that were plentiful, which he said is a more sustainable process. That means diners who might not be aware that golden tilefish “is a delicious, sweet-tasting dense fish,” might get a pleasant surprise when they find it on the menu of their favorite restaurant.

When Dock to Dish was launched in 2012, the idea was to provide a couple of pounds of fresh fish each week to individual subscribers, but Mr. Barrett said that simple idea soon ran into complicated barriers.

“We realized there were really no more working waterfronts,” Mr. Barrett said. “There was a shortage of skilled labor. His partner, Rudi Bonicelli, was often working until all hours of the night filleting fish to meet the delivery requirements. Another problem, Mr. Barrett said, was waste. Even the most skilled fisherman with a fillet knife leaves behind parts of the fish that can still be consumed.

“Depending on who is doing the filleting for every 1,000 pounds you could see 700 pounds of waste,” he said. But Mr. Barrett said he quickly learned that if he brought a whole fish to a restaurant, a chef could find more meat on the fish and use its bones for soup stock, thus reducing the waste and contributing to a more sustainable food source.

Soon, Dock to Dish was focusing on signing up chefs from local restaurants, who would pay for future landings. Within three years, Dock to Dish had expanded to Vancouver, Los Angeles and London. It has since added San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Fiji and the Bahamas are coming next, he said.

“From Maine to Florida, every night, small fishermen are shipping their little hauls collectively to the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, and they don’t know where it’s going to end up,” he said. “The idea is to inspire, to force change. We are trying to align to a simpler time.”