Passing The Torch: Generational knowledge in the Monterey Bay seafood biz

March 14, 2019

Fishermen, best friends, and co-founders Charlie Lambert (L) and Ian Cole (R) of Ocean2Table. Photo credit: Charlie Lambert.

Fishermen, best friends, and co-founders Charlie Lambert (L) and Ian Cole (R) of Ocean2Table. Photo credit: Charlie Lambert.

There’s a steep learning curve in commercial fishing, whether it’s on a boat learning where to land fish and how to keep the equipment operational, or on the dock, trying to find a steady supply of seafood for vendors while ensuring a high-quality fresh product. While there’s a lot to be discovered on the job, a good mentor is invaluable.

Getting young blood into the Monterey Bay seafood economy has long been a priority for those concerned with the future of the industry. So when two young men with an upstart seafood business asked Roger Whitney—owner of Bay Fresh Seafood in Moss Landing—for advice, he was eager to help.

“Early on we got to know Roger and over time he took us under his wing,” say Charles Lambert, 31, who with Ian Cole started the Santa Cruz-based community supported fishery, Ocean2Table, in 2014. “There’s so much knowledge that’s lost as there aren’t too many guys our age in the fishery.”

Roger Whitney landing catch at his Bay Fresh Seafood’s office. Photo credit: Ian Cole.

“I’m very happy to see these young guys get into the fishing industry and I’ve tried to help where I can,” Whitney says. “They have a lot of heart. Charlie and Ian started from rock bottom delivering fish in a Prius for God’s sake.”

Lambert and Cole are both UC Santa Cruz graduates who worked in fisheries management for state and federal agencies before going into the seafood business for themselves. They saw aspects of seafood labelling and marketing that bothered them. The two friends saw an opportunity with the growing food movement and consumer concern about where and how food is sourced.

Whitney, on the other hand, has been in the seafood business out of Moss Landing for more than 40 years, and has owned Bay Fresh Seafoods for around three decades. He has seen the rise and fall of fisheries and many businesses fail over the years, learning some valuable keys to success in the process.

In Lambert and Cole, Whitney saw two young men wet behind the ears but with a clear vision and a drive to succeed.

“The only thing I helped Charlie and Ian with was selling them fish on credit, and I let them work underneath my business permit when they were getting started,” Whitney says. “As far as a market goes, I can’t take much credit, they went out and got their own.”

But to Lambert and Cole, it was many tidbits of knowledge that proved to be most helpful: from paying taxes and dealing with the regulatory process to finding new fishermen to buy from and how to best handle the fish.

“He’s helped in so many ways it’s hard to get into one thing or another,” Lambert says. “I have a ton of respect for him and the way he does business. He’s shown us how to go the extra distance to make sure the product is the best it can be.”

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The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust is developing leadership programs to facilitate the transfer of wisdom from one generation of fishermen to the next. We look to models such as Alaska’s Young Fishermen’s Network and other mentorship programs to guide our approach. Efforts are also underway at the federal level to pass the Young Fishermen’s Development Act of 2019, which will provide funding for training and education that enables the next generation to succeed in the industry.

Roger Burleigh