Family vacations typically inspire fond memories, but rarely do they inspire businesses.
While visiting the Caribbean island of Tobago in 1996, the Dimin family saw fishermen haul in their bountiful catch using traditional methods, but with no market to sell the fish. Based in the New York metro area, the family knew that chefs at restaurants in the city could be a prime market for this sustainably-caught harvest. The idea launched Sea to Table, cofounded by Sean Dimin and his father Michael. Sea to Table has since grown to partner with local fishermen from small-scale, sustainable wild fisheries from all over the United States – and Tobago, of course – and connects them directly with restaurants and chefs all across the country.
Sean is now in the challenging but rewarding position of getting fish from, as he says, “independent-minded fishermen to strong-willed chefs.” Most fish that we eat at restaurants today have taken a convoluted, sometimes two-week long journey from a loading dock to a centralized market to a series of distributors, and finally to a chef’s kitchen. Sea to Table is giving fish lovers a chance to know the story of the fish that they eat; where it was caught, who caught it, and how.
Sean recently took some time to talk with us from his Brooklyn office about the history of Sea to Table, the joys of visiting fishermen on the job and the potential of Las Vegas shrimp. You can listen to the interview by clicking on the audio player (above left), download a podcast of the full conversation, or read a PDF transcript. Here’s a snippet of our conversation:
Now has the idea of sustainability with these fisheries always factored into the business from the beginning?
We didn’t know about sustainable seafood when we first started our business in the Caribbean. It was just a man on small open skiffs hand-lining the fish.
It wasn’t later until we realized that this very selective method of fishing was inherently sustainable, and that’s why this fishing community was still so vibrant and active, that they hadn’t overfished their fish stocks. Once we learned that there was a good way to do things and a bad way to do things, it’s just always been our way to just do it the right way. And there was a right way to source seafood. It was to work with the men and women who harvest it responsibly. And a big part of it is knowing where that fish comes from. And that if a diner or a chef or a fish monger or a customer at a supermarket can be told where the fish came from, how it was caught, who caught it and has that clear line of traceability, all that information, chances are they are going to make the right decision. And if they don’t have all that information, chances are it’s not the right fish.
So I imagine that when you first started breaking into the world of these fishermen, it might have been a little tough. Did you go into this with any trepidation? And actually the chefs, too--was there any skepticism on their part when you were first starting?
I think maybe I was too young, and I was too confident, and I had no idea what I was stepping into. And it wasn’t my first business, it was my second business, but it was, as I start to learn what other people do with their lives, I don’t know if I'd make the same step. It’s a very difficult business. It’s very rewarding, but coordinating fresh fish from independent-minded fishermen to a strong-willed chef is like being in the middle of a rock and a hard place, with a lot of weather and uncertainties in between.