“Nobody in my family has ever been involved in the fishing industry in any way,” says Jared Auerbach, founder and CEO of Red’s Best, a wholesale seafood distributor perched on Boston’s Fish Pier. Still, the New England native, who spent his youth trotting out to the pier to eyeball the bait of those who’d been casting their rods long before he was born, knew that he’d eventually follow in their waders. “After graduating from the University of Colorado in 2003, the only thing I could think of doing for my first job was to find a way to get paid to go fishing,” he remembers. Auerbach netted a job on a salmon purse seiner that sailed out of Gig Harbor, Washington, en route to Alaska, and for the next three summers, he commercially fished in The Last Frontier, drifting back to New England to fish during the off months, working, he says, on gillnetters and offshore lobster boats.
In 2008, Auerbach founded Red’s Best, a business that utilizes an innovative – and proprietary – web-based software program that focuses on efficiency and unsurpassed traceability when it comes to tracking just about every detail that surrounds the fish it sells, down to the exact equipment used by the captains to catch their prey. To that end, the company works directly with small-scale fishermen to increase consumer – and chef – demand for local, traceable and sustainable seafood. Seattle Fish Co. procures much of its seafood and fish from Red’s Best, and according to both Auerbach and Mike Shepler, a buyer from Seattle Fish, it’s a valuable partnership that has a sustainable future.
“Red’s Best is basically a one-stop shop for all North Atlantic species, and because of the great partnerships they have with their day boat fishermen, they guarantee top dollar for bycatch – things like scup, dog fish, skate wing, bluefish and sushi fluke – and they also offer an online traceability app, which provides us with information about the fishing vessel, the captain, the product, the time of harvest and gear type. They pay their fishermen good wages and provide the freshest product, and it goes without saying that Red’s Best is a very good partner to have on our team,” says Shepler.
Aucherbach echoes that statement: “We have a very good relationship with Seattle Fish, and there’s a lot more potential to grow our relationship and continue to connect their customers with our fishermen,” notes Auerbach, who, in his own words, recounts his journey from his days as a young boy on the pier to owning one of Boston’s most respected seafood dealers.
I GREW UP 20 MILES FROM THE OCEAN in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and for as long as I can remember, I was drawn to fishing and the romantic idea of feeding my community with the seafood I harvested. I was the little kid standing on the pier asking the old-timers what they were using for bait and whether they’d caught anything.
I ALWAYS LOVED EATING SEAFOOD, and I loved catching seafood, but the middle area was a complete mystery; I thought there must be a way for me to use my expertise to add value to the middle of the supply chain. Red’s Best started with a goal of becoming really good at unloading a lot of little boats, and then finding ways to share the story of the fish with end users.
A TYPICAL DAY FOR ME is overseeing and offering assistance to our amazing team of personnel. Red’s Best is successful because of the great people who work here; they care so much about the brand and the fishermen we work with. Some days I’m on the docks; some days I’m in the office; and some days I’m out fishing.
OUR MAIN FOCUS at Red’s Best is supporting small fishing boats and keeping them viable in a world that typically leans towards efficiency without concern for the environment, the community or the quality of our food.
WE’VE WORKED WITH OVER 1,000 FISHERMAN, and on a busy day, we’ll handle about 300 transactions with boats. We’ve built trusting relationships by doing the right thing over time and gaining the trust of fishermen. By nature, fishermen are very vulnerable when it comes to their dealers, so we take our relationships with them very seriously.
RED’S BEST HAS DEVELOPED WEB-BASED TRACEABILITY SOFTWARE that we use to efficiently handle massive amounts of inbound data from all the boats we’re unloading. When our drivers meet the boats at the small ports throughout New England, they use wireless tablets to create the fish ticket, and the information from the catch is instantly available to our staff and our customers. Having this digital data makes it very easy for us to efficiently process the transactions, and it also makes it easy for us to package the story of the fish to share with our customers and their customers.
OUR TRACEABILITY FEATURE STARTS at the point of unloading. We originally created the software to level the playing fields for the small boats in our region, lowering the transaction costs so we could sell fish from 300 small boats instead of one huge boat. The traceability features are really a byproduct of this, since we just trained the software to package the information we’ve always captured.
YOU CAN’T CONVINCE SOMEONE TO TRUST YOU – especially fishermen – by simply telling them how honest you are; you have to just show them over time, and that’s what we’ve done. Our software does a lot to make fishermen feel comfortable, because they know they can log in to their personal page and see all of their landings.
WE GO OUT OF OUR WAY TO GIVE OUR CUSTOMERS THE ENTIRE STORY OF THEIR FISH, which means that we’re very clear about the fact that in some cases, we pool together fish from a harbor where a group of boats are using similar gear types and fishing similar areas. We do this to lower our carbon footprint and to make sure that we’re operating as efficiently as possible.
WE SELL EVERYTHING THAT COMES OUT OF THE OCEAN, and people trust us because we’re fish guys first, and tech guys second. We may have some really cool software, but we wear fishing boots to work and handle a lot of fish every day.
THERE ARE A LOT OF HIGH-QUALITY ITEMS THAT WE CATCH, which taste great but don’t have value on the market, mostly because people don’t know about them. Seafood demand is often based on what’s trendy, and it’s important to encourage chefs to think outside the box so we can sell some of the great items we land for a little more money – things like butterfish, scup, sea robin, skate, dogfish, pollock, hake, whiting, herring, mackerel, and bluefish. They all taste great, but they don’t have much value on the market because people are more used to seeing halibut, salmon, tuna, Chilean sea bass, swordfish, etc.
IT’S VERY IMPORTANT FOR RESTAURANTS AND CONSUMERS TO START EMBRACING THE CONCEPT OF “MARKET PRICE,” because it leads to the most important goal we have, namely to encourage people to be flexible about what they consume from the ocean. If we’re forced to provide consistent specs and consistent prices, then you’ll be stuck with the same boring, unhealthy choices you have now: tilapia, salmon, Alaskan cod and farmed shrimp.
I CAN’T PREDICT WHAT THE NEXT “RIGHT” FISH WILL BE NEXT WEEK, OR NEXT MONTH OR NEXT YEAR, but what I can promise is this: We’ll have something fresh, affordable and healthy. If we can get people to stop trying to dictate what’s on the menu and instead let Mother Nature decide, we’ll be doing a lot towards sustaining the small boat fleets and ports in the United States.