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Caroline Pomeroy California Sea Grant, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz

Sunny Rice Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Carolynn Culver California Sea Grant, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara

Victoria Baker Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Seafood direct marketing (SDM) allows fishermen to sell their catch directly to consumers or via fewer intermediaries than in the dominant supply chain. In the United States of America, fishermen are drawn to SDM arrangements as a means of adapting to regulatory, operational, environmental, social and economic challenges. However, SDM is not always feasible or suitable for individuals, fisheries or communities. Recognizing this, university-trained advisors affiliated with Sea Grant Extension Programs (SGEPs) have developed a good practice for assisting small-scale fishermen and communities in evaluating and utilizing SDM in their particular context. Guided by the SGEP model, the practice uses a science-based approach grounded in principles of non-advocacy, trust, collaboration and effective communication. This case study describes the development and application of the good practice by SGEPs advisors in the American states of Alaska and California to help fishermen and others make well-informed decisions about SDM. To implement use of this practice they recommend: recognizing and working with fishing community members as experts and co-educators (partners); collaborating to identify and address needs by sharing and building information; refraining from advocacy; recognizing that SDM is not an "all or nothing" strategy; developing contextually grounded outreach materials; and using multiple information delivery methods and dissemination channels. Use of the good practice consistent with these recommendations can contribute to further implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.

Keywords: Seafood marketing, California fisheries, Alaska fisheries, seafood production, collaborative research, non-advocacy, extension, Sea Grant, fishing communities, outreach.

Seafood direct marketing (SDM) is defined as "selling a [seafood] product to a user at a point on the distribution chain [beyond] the primary processor" (Johnson, 2007). Also referred to as "seafood alternative marketing" to more accurately reflect the range of options, it involves fishermen1 selling their catch to the final consumer or working via fewer intermediaries than in the dominant supply chain. Culver et al. (2015) have highlighted eight types of SDM arrangements, which vary in terms of the business skills, time and resources required, types of products that can readily be sold, and other factors (Appendix 1, Figure 5.1). SDM arrangements can provide outlets for lower-volume, higher-value (price-per-pound) fisheries, reducing vulnerability to the variability and uncertainty of pricing that often characterize long supply chains, especially those tied to global markets. SDM can also enhance connections between fishermen and consumers, providing fishermen with social, economic and political support to sustain their activities, and communities and consumers with more direct access to nutritious, local food products.

SDM is not new to West Coast fisheries of the United States of America. Off-the- boat sales, local farmers'/fishermen' markets, and direct sales to restaurants have long been used by a small proportion of fishermen to sell their catch. However, as fishermen have faced challenges maintaining economically and socially viable businesses, interest in SDM as an option for claiming more of the total value of their catch, and in some cases for improving their connection with consumers and communities, has grown.

For more than 25 years, Sea Grant Extension Programs (SGEPs) (Box 5.1) in the United States of America have assisted small-scale seafood producers and fishing communities in the identification, evaluation and utilization of alternative marketing strategies appropriate for their particular context.2 The SGEP model is a strategy that builds understanding of local needs and facilitates collaborative exploration of options for addressing those needs through research, education and outreach. It also builds partnerships to achieve shared goals. Community members may request assistance or SGEP advisors may identify needs through conversations with them. SGEP advisors often provide assistance to fishermen and others at no charge, but may pursue additional funding (e.g. grants) to cover costs and/or provide stipends to collaborators (including fishermen).

BOX 5.1

National Sea Grant College Program

The National Sea Grant College Program (NSGCP) is a non-regulatory federal programme within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the Department of Commerce of the United States of America. It is a network of 34 programmes based at colleges and universities in American coastal states and territories. Each Sea Grant programme features an extension programme with local advisors (also known as agents or specialists). These advisors are typically university-trained, with expertise in specific areas such as biological or social science, economics or marketing. The advisors engage in applied research, education and outreach projects to further NSGCP’s mission of enhancing the practical use and conservation of coastal and marine resources to support a sustainable economy and environment. Their work entails collaboration with communities to help identify and address information needs. The SGEPs are partially funded by the federal government, with matching support provided by state government and non-governmental entities.


Key tenets of the SGEP model are non-advocacy, trust, effective communication and a science-based approach (Dewees, Sortais and Leet, 2004). Consistent with the principles of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines), the SGEP model promotes the inclusion of diverse individuals and groups, meaningful and respectful participation, and consideration of environmental, social and economic viability. Several SGEPs have used this model to provide SDM assistance to fishermen (i.e. the SDM good practice), encouraging and facilitating careful consideration of business options based on the unique circumstances of the fishermen, their community and consumers.

This case study describes the application of the SGEP model for providing SDM assistance in the American states of Alaska and California. Following a brief overview of the two states' commercial fisheries (Figure 5.2), we describe how the model was used to address challenges faced by fishermen and fishing communities in each context as a good practice. Next, we highlight the outcomes and impacts and future steps for building on accomplishments to date. We then discuss implications for small-scale fishermen, communities and policies in the United States of America and elsewhere. We conclude with recommendations for applying this good practice in other contexts, consistent with Chapter 7 of the SSF Guidelines.


Fishermen have been drawn to SDM as an alternative or complement to long seafood supply chain arrangements in an effort to adapt to various challenges. In the 1990s and early 2000s, complex shifts in American regulatory systems, global markets, and socio-economic and environmental conditions led to fundamental changes in American fisheries, posing challenges and opportunities for fishing communities. In some cases, increased competition from farmed products and wild-caught seafood from other countries led to stagnant or declining ex-vessel prices, while operating costs continued to increase (Sumaila et al., 2007; Pomeroy, Thomson and Stevens, 2010; Henry, Rhodes and Eades, 2008). In other cases, in an effort to ensure resource sustainability, state and federal fisheries management authorities implemented measures to limit or reduce fishery access, capacity and effort. This resulted in reduced domestic production of many species and increased reliance on imported seafood, creating marketing challenges for fishery participants (Ahmed and Anderson, 1994).

Alaska and California support a great diversity of commercial fisheries. Species commonly caught in the two states include salmon, herring, groundfish, halibut, shrimp and crab, with fishermen in Alaska also targeting cod, scallops and clams, and fishermen in California targeting lobster, squid and albacore. Gear types are similarly diverse: pot/trap, dive, drift and set gillnet, purse seine, trawl, longline, troll, jig and (specific to Alaska) dredge. Each state has a range of commercial fishing operations. The smallest include one-person hook-and-line operations such as 18-foot (5.5 m) salmon hand trollers in Alaska and 12-foot (4 m) skiffs in California.3 Larger fishing operations include groundfish trawlers, longliners and coastal pelagic species seiners (most under 80 feet [25 m], with three to six crew members); Alaska also has large, corporate-owned pollock factory trawlers (e.g. 340 feet [104 m], with up to 140 crew members).

Commercial fisheries are important to both states. Commercial fishing and seafood processing are a major part of Alaska's economy and cultural heritage. Together they represent the largest source of non-government employment in the state, providing 70 000 seasonal and year-round jobs (Alaska Sea Grant College Program, 2018). In California, commercial fishing and seafood production have long contributed to the state's -- and many coastal communities' -- economy and cultural heritage (Pomeroy, Thomson, and Stevens, 2010). However, the two states' fishing communities and processing operations differ in various ways. For example, less than 10 percent of Alaska's 240 coastal communities along 40 000 miles of shoreline are connected by road; most are accessible only by boat or airplane (Alaska Sea Grant College Program, 2018). By contrast, California's coastal fishing communities, while varying in population and distance from major transportation and population centres, have access to secondary roads, if not highways. The two states also differ in terms of the nature and provision of shoreside infrastructure, goods and services. For example, while ice is publicly available at most harbours in California, in Alaska it is generally only provided by seafood processors. Further, while seafood landed in remote communities in Alaska typically requires processing before being transported to out-of-state markets, many fisheries in California, with nearby infrastructure and buyers, support local seafood markets.

Some women also fish, although more commonly they are involved in shoreside support: provisioning fishing operations, bookkeeping, participating in business and fishery management processes and, especially in the case of SDM, handling the catch "from dock to dish." Many small-scale fishermen come from families with a multigenerational history of working in fisheries and seafood production. Many, especially in Alaska and northern California, live and work in coastal communities that are substantially engaged in and dependent on fisheries (Norman et al., 2007; Pomeroy, Thomson and Stevens, 2010). In other cases, primarily in central and southern California, small-scale fishermen are located in larger, more diversified urban communities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Here they play a smaller role relative to the urban whole, but remain important to the fisheries system and the particular places where they live and work.

This case study presents a review and synthesis of the SDM research, education and outreach efforts of the Alaska and California SGEPs since the mid-1990s. Sources of information include grey and peer-reviewed literature; materials developed by the two SGEPs; periodic impact and outcome reporting; observation; and interviews and other communications with fishermen, those in the larger seafood value chain, port managers, agency personnel, and Sea Grant extension colleagues throughout the United States of America.

The definition of small-scale fisheries varies depending on the context (FAO, 2015). For this case study, we define small-scale fisheries as those involving primarily owner- operated, relatively small vessels (under 58 feet [18 m] in Alaska, under 35 feet [11 m] in California), run solely by a captain or by a captain and a small crew (4 or fewer crew members in Alaska, 2 or fewer in California), with social and economic ties to particular coastal communities. While most fishermen in both states sell their catch to traditional "first receivers" and long supply chain buyers, others sell some or all of their catch directly to restaurants, retailers and/or consumers. Depending on the species, customer needs and preferences, and logistics, the resulting seafood products may be sold live, fresh, frozen or in various processed forms.

SGEP advisors provide fishermen and communities with practical information about SDM options and associated opportunities, challenges and other key considerations. If fishermen decide to pursue SDM, the advisors also provide them with regulatory, logistic and marketing guidance. SGEP advisors use a variety of dissemination methods: one-on-one consultations, informal conversations, workshops, public presentations, feasibility studies, print and online publications, and dedicated websites. Finally, they refine and adapt these efforts and materials in an iterative process based on feedback from users. Notably, SGEP advisors do not advocate for SDM; they view dissuading those who are not well suited to SDM as equally important to assisting those with the capacity and desire to pursue it. The following examples illustrate how the SGEPs in Alaska and California have applied the SGEP model to address local needs associated with SDM.

In the mid-1990s, global market forces -- primarily competition from the rapid increase in world production of farmed salmon and consolidation of the American seafood processing industry -- prompted Alaskan commercial fishermen to look for ways to earn more revenue from their catch. Some sought to capture more of the final value of their product for themselves by becoming seafood direct marketers. This choice is complex and not without additional costs (Figure 5.3). As part of their business relationship with fishermen, many seafood processors in Alaska offer services such as loans for vessels and gear, free access to ice and gear storage, bonus payments once the "pack" is sold or, in some cases, shares in the seafood processing business itself. In some fisheries, processors offer price-per-pound quality bonuses to fishermen who use refrigerated seawater systems. In more remote areas, processors also provide tender services, whereby contracted vessels transport the catch from offshore or remote fishing grounds to shore-based processing plants.

Given Alaska's small population, large size and vast distance from major market centres, most seafood must be processed and/or frozen for transport to customers. As such, seafood direct marketers face many of the same challenges larger processors in Alaska face: high costs for transporting the catch from coastal communities due to lack of road networks and limited air-freight space; state and federal regulations that are not always well coordinated; and financial risks related to high up-front and operational costs of fishing and processing. In addition, direct marketers must contend with limited processing capacity suitable for small-scale operations in coastal communities and the challenges of producing a high-quality product on board vessels of limited size.4 They also often struggle to balance the need to be fishing when the season is open with the SDM imperative of timely shoreside marketing and delivery.


To help address these challenges and opportunities, the Alaska SGEP has conducted a range of activities related to SDM with the broad goals of:

  • Building fishermen's capacity to operate consistently with management, taxation and seafood safety regulations that govern the processing, transport and sale of seafood products;

  • Preventing potential losses to small-scale fishermen by making them aware of the challenges and pitfalls before they begin SDM;

  • Increasing fishermen's understanding of proper seafood handling and food safety to ensure high product quality and enhance the reputations of both direct marketers and Alaska seafood in general; and

  • Facilitating conversations among direct marketers to better enable them to advocate for themselves and learn from each other's mistakes and successes.

When salmon prices dropped markedly in the early 1990s due to competition from farmed salmon, fishermen became increasingly interested in SDM, a practice that was first identified and regulated in Alaska in 1984.5 In response, the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (ADCCED) asked the Alaska SGEP to develop and publish information on advantages and disadvantages of SDM to help fishermen make sound decisions about whether to invest their time and resources pursuing it. The result was the Alaska Fisherman's Direct Marketing Manual (Johnson, 1997). Initially geared toward fishermen in Alaska, this publication is still considered the go-to SDM resource for the region, and subsequent editions have been expanded to include information for fishermen operating in Washington and Oregon. Since 2004, Alaska Sea Grant has distributed more than 5 700 copies of the manual in print and online. The fifth edition of the manual (Johnson, 2018) covers business planning, e-commerce, packaging and shipping, custom processing, the seafood distribution system, handling to maintain seafood quality, and more. An appendix, "Is Direct Marketing for Me?", describes the challenges involved and the characteristics and skills needed to succeed in SDM, and provides a tool fishermen can use to assess their own capacities for pursuing it. (See Appendix 2 for additional SDM tools and resources.)

Since 2002, the Alaska SGEP has offered SDM workshops and courses based on the manual and other needs identified by SDM practitioners.6 Initially conducted in person, in 2017 the SGEP began conducting online webinars for a fee. This format has enabled more fishermen from around the state to participate, facilitating cross- fertilization of ideas and eliminating travel costs for instructors and fishermen. The five-session course is offered in the fall when most fisheries are idle, with up to 20 participants attending at a time. Homework assignments lead participants through the development of an action plan for their SDM business. For the final session, fishermen with established direct markets help teach the class by sharing their experiences and answering students' questions.

In 2008, the Alaska SGEP conducted a statewide survey to assess fishermen's training needs and identified a high level of interest in SDM. In response, the SGEP developed the Fish Entrepreneur newsletter (Haight and Rice, 2008) to facilitate communication and information sharing among direct marketers so they could advocate for themselves. The newsletter addressed topics including pricing strategies, methods for improving salmon quality with onboard "pressure bleeding," preparing for regulatory inspections, upcoming events, and interviews with existing direct marketers.

The Alaska SGEP also has produced technical information on seafood quality, handling and food safety. Examples include Care and Handling of Salmon: The Key to Quality (Doyle, 1992) and videos specific to setnet and drift gillnet fishermen working from small open skiffs. In addition, in partnership with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, SGEP advisors have developed and led workshops on seafood handling for fishermen.

Corollary to these efforts, the SGEP launched the Alaska Fisheries Business Assistance Project, “FishBiz"7 in 2006, also with financial support from ADCCED. The goal of this effort was to "professionalize" Alaska's small-scale fishermen by encouraging them to understand and analyse their operations as bona fide businesses and providing business management tools to help them succeed. Focused more broadly, the FishBiz website provides business planning templates, information on minimizing risk, sources of information for new entrants into fisheries, and an Excel workbook to help fishermen analyse projected expenses and income under different fishing scenarios, with a version designed specifically for direct marketers.8

Finally, Alaska SGEP advisors have participated in local infrastructure initiatives. In one instance, an advisor led two community surveys to ascertain interest in supporting a community-owned, certified processing facility for seafood direct marketers. In another case, the SGEP provided leadership to establish initial operating policies for the Petersburg Community Cold Storage, a publicly owned facility built with state grant funds on public land. Specific policies were set and equipment purchased to ensure small-scale operators had access to the facility and were not crowded out by large processors or "anchor tenants”.9 As other communities have considered similar projects, the SGEP has provided information and insights on the advantages and challenges of building and managing these types of facilities (Knapp, 2008). The Petersburg facility continues to serve both larger anchor tenants and smaller direct marketers, with all operating costs covered by user fees.

The California SGEP's efforts to assist small-scale fisheries with SDM began in earnest in 2005.10 Several factors motivated these efforts, including the substantial downsizing of the state's fisheries through increasingly stringent restricted access programmes, catch limits and other measures; provisions for expanded stakeholder and broader public involvement in state and federal fishery management11; and expanded capacity of the Sea Grant extension network nationwide, including the hiring of additional fisheries extension personnel.

In the mid-2000s, California SGEP advisors conducted informal discussions with community members to assess local needs to help inform development of their research, education and outreach activities. They identified challenges facing California's small- scale fisheries including substantial and problematic misunderstanding about fisheries at many levels. In particular, they learned that residents of California lacked accurate information and knowledge about local commercial fisheries. Some did not even realize they existed, while others had misperceptions about their operations, environmental impacts, socio-economic relevance and management. California's fishery participants and associated communities were struggling to maintain economically viable businesses amid increasing operating costs, stagnating or declining ex-vessel prices, and reduced production associated with regulatory downsizing. These factors made it difficult to maintain links to markets that required larger and more consistent catches than fishermen could provide. At the same time, the rapid expansion of the local food movement, consumers' growing interest in locally produced food, and the proliferation of alternative marketing strategies for agricultural products increased fishermen's interest in SDM.

Recognizing the potential for SDM to help address some of the challenges facing the state's small-scale fisheries, California SGEP advisors began to expand their work in this area. To increase awareness and understanding about local commercial fisheries, they developed the Discover California Commercial Fisheries website,12 synthesizing biological, oceanographic, regulatory and socio-economic information related to the state's fisheries including region- and port-specific information. They also developed a series of regional seafood posters (Figure 5.4).13 The posters did not advocate buying locally caught seafood, but instead provided information about when and how species are fished.

California SGEP advisors also began to explore ways to improve the economic and social viability of small-scale fisheries, conducting two studies to investigate the feasibility of SDM. The first was a 2011 feasibility study for a community-supported fishery (CSF). The SGEP advisor was inspired by the experience of community- supported agriculture programmes, in which consumers invest in a farm by paying for a share of the season's production up front. Given the differences between agricultural and fishery products (e.g. perishability, handling requirements, consumption patterns), it was unclear whether such a marketing arrangement would work for seafood. To address this question, a SGEP advisor worked with others to conduct a feasibility study.

The feasibility study included two surveys. The first survey targeted fishermen to identify what and how much product they would be willing and able to provide. The second survey targeted consumers to assess demand for and flexibility in being offered lesser-known products -- i.e. what they would be willing to buy. A seafood tasting event also was held to bring the two groups together, with demonstrations to educate consumers on how to handle and prepare various products. Based on the positive results of the feasibility study, a CSF was developed. A programme evaluation after the first two years found that it was meeting its objectives of increasing consumer understanding, improving attitudes toward local fishing, and providing improved financial and social support for fishermen. Although the experiences of the participating fishermen have not been evaluated formally, early comments indicated that they were obtaining a higher price per pound for the small portion of the catch they were selling through the CSF, and that they valued the increased education of and connection with the community.


The second study was initiated in 2013 by California SGEP advisors in collaboration with colleagues from the University of California Santa Barbara and SGEPs in other states. The goal of the project was to expand understanding of the diversity of SDM arrangements fishermen were using in a range of settings on the country's east and west coasts, and how they could help address the regulatory, economic and social challenges facing West Coast fishermen. Through interviews, the project team identified the key characteristics of each type of SDM, the conditions required for establishing and maintaining each type, and the impacts and implications of SDM for fishermen's operations as well as the well-being of both fishermen and local fishing communities. Integral to the project was working with several other states' SGEPs to learn how they had been assisting fishermen and communities with SDM.

The project team used the study findings to develop the Market Your Catch website, expanding on the substantial foundation provided by Alaska SGEP's Fishermen's Direct Marketing Manual (Johnson 1997, 2007, 2018). The website provides a clearinghouse for information resources and tools developed by many SGEPs and others.^14^ Like the manual, the Market Your Catch website does not connect fishermen with customers, but provides information about different types of markets and customers and key considerations for evaluating the feasibility and utility of SDM given their situation (i.e. what they fish for, their actual or potential customer base, their skills, the logistical resources available, and their social and economic support system). The website also provides information on how to get started in or to expand SDM. This information was disseminated further through workshops in California, Oregon and Washington and through a web-based presentation to SGEP advisors throughout the nation. It continues to be used during one-on-one consultations with fishermen.

While working on these projects, it became evident that the regulations related to selling one's catch were a major constraint for fishermen seeking to participate in SDM. Permit requirements are complex; they vary from state to state and even from county to county. The permit process was further complicated because there was a critical disconnect between natural resource and food systems management (Olsen, Clay and Pinto Da Silva, 2014), with the relationship between fisheries and SDM not well understood by resource management agencies or those with food handling and distribution oversight. For example, natural resource agencies oversee fishing and the landing of the catch (from boat to dock or beach), and issue the licenses and permits required for fishermen and fish buyers, respectively, to sell and receive the catch. Food system management agencies (e.g. public health, food and agriculture, weights and measures) oversee transport, handling, processing and storage of seafood once it has been landed dockside. For fishermen interested in selling their catch "off-the-boat" -- a site not considered within the purview of food system authorities -- it was unclear whom they should talk to, what rules they needed to follow, and what permits they needed.

As a result, to assist potential seafood direct marketers, the California SGEP developed and posted general information online about permits potentially required for SDM and the local and state agencies with authority to issue them. More specific permit guidance was not provided, as this depends on the type and location of the SDM and the products sold, and thus is best provided by the regulatory agencies themselves. Nonetheless, providing the agency contact and associated permit information in a central location has been useful. Others have recognized the permit pages as a template for organizing this type of information and California SGEP advisors are working with SGEP colleagues throughout the network to generate similar information for other coastal states.

In addition, the California SGEP has engaged with county environmental health departments through seminars and one-on-one discussions to educate them about California's fisheries and the range of SDM types that might be of interest to fishermen and fishing communities. They have developed outreach materials to inform the public about safe seafood handling and consumption during harmful algal blooms. They also have helped to inform and encourage the development of local and state policy to streamline SDM permitting processes, which are not as well established for seafood products as they are for agricultural products. One policy success has been the enactment of the "Pacific to Plate" legislation (AB- 226, 2015) facilitating the establishment and operation of dockside seafood markets. Dockside markets have long been an important outlet for a few small-scale fisheries such as the Newport Dory Fishing Fleet, which has been selling directly to the public for more than 125 years.14 This legislation paved the way for others to more readily develop such seafood direct markets, and resulted in the establishment of a new market (the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market15) involving several fishermen in San Diego. It also has made it easier for established dockside markets to process product on site, whereas fishermen previously had to rely on nearby seafood retailers with government-approved facilities and permits for this function.

Taken together, the efforts of the Alaska and California SGEPs to promote SDM demonstrate practical implementation of several recommendations presented in Chapter 7 of the SSF Guidelines, as follows (Appendix 2). First, the SGEP advisors' engagement of fishing communities in research (the CSF and SDM studies and training needs assessments described above) has built understanding of needs, options and considerations for SDM, with materials developed from these efforts in turn building capacity for the post-harvest sector (paragraph 7.3 of the SSF Guidelines). Further, information provided through classes, workshops, websites and other outreach efforts has helped seafood direct marketers maintain product safety and quality, which is critical for the seafood industry, consumers and the state. Second, feasibility studies that consider sustainability in terms of both supply and demand have supported development of marketing mechanisms that have enhanced the income and thus the overall security of small-scale fisheries (paragraph 7.4). The information about various SDM arrangements and associated regulations that the SGEPs have gathered and provided has increased awareness and understanding among small-scale fishermen, communities and agency personnel, thus allowing them to make informed decisions on whether to invest in SDM infrastructure. Third, small-scale fishermen are evaluating new options (e.g. selling to institutions, via CSFs and via buying clubs) and accessing new markets locally, regionally and/or nationally (paragraph 7.6). Some of these markets also have supported sales of under-utilized species, as fishermen have been able to directly explore consumers' interest in new products. Last, the SGEP efforts have helped to build capacity by providing resources, facilitating development of infrastructure and informing policy, all of which have enabled small-scale fishermen to participate in local food movements and other marketing opportunities occurring on different scales (paragraph 7.10).

Despite these successes, the Alaska and California SGEPs still face several challenges. For instance, the web-based resources produced are not accessible to the full range of individuals and groups that would benefit from them. Many fishermen are not frequent users and/or readers of websites, although this is changing with the entry of new, younger participants. And while the majority of fishermen speak and read English, some small-scale fishermen do not, or they only speak English as a second language. More effort is required to reach them, both linguistically and culturally. Furthermore, while Alaska Sea Grant's Fish Entrepreneur newsletter has fulfilled its function as an information resource, it has not generated the anticipated engagement or collaboration among direct marketers to pursue common needs and interests. This may stem from seafood direct marketers' reluctance to share details about their business strategy with potential competitors.

Similarly, while the policy change in California has highlighted the need for improved SDM permit processes, its impact has been limited. It has institutionalized and streamlined this process for a single type of SDM, one already established in some places. This has led many policymakers and the public to believe that all of the challenges associated with securing government approval for implementing SDM have been addressed, when in fact challenges facing other types of SDM persist. Adapting permit processes for direct sales of agriculture products to fisheries products would help to expand SDM options.

Not all types of SDM are logistically or politically feasible, or suitable for all fishermen, communities and contexts. For example, while dockside sales have long been permitted and widely used in Alaska, they are not permitted at some harbours in California due to concerns about visitor safety on the docks. In other cases, off-the-boat sales have been encouraged while dockside markets have not, due to logistical considerations such as the needs of other harbour users for access to those areas. For individual fishermen, some are not willing or able to spend the time waiting for customers as required for off-the-boat sales and dockside markets. And in some communities, up-front payments required of CSF customers are not economically feasible.

While interest in SDM is high, participation in both states appears to be steady but limited. In 2018, of the 8 697 permit holders who fished in Alaska, 259 participated in SDM and another 380 registered as dockside "catcher/sellers."16 SDM requires interpersonal and business skills, access to a reliable and flexible customer base, and appropriate infrastructure to support the handling of the catch from the dock to the customer. Moreover, each of the steps in the supply chain -- even the small ones -- requires time. For a fisherman, this can mean foregoing time fishing unless someone else fulfils these shoreside functions. In fact, a decision to not engage in SDM after evaluating ones' circumstances and options also is valuable, as it saves time and money that would have gone toward something that likely would not have worked.

Those who do engage in SDM tend to be motivated by factors beyond obtaining a higher price for their catch. These include dissatisfaction with processor quality practices, interest in the marketing aspects of SDM, having a family (or other) connection to the end market, and a desire to improve connections within the community. In some cases, families engage in SDM out of a shared desire from both spouses to participate in the family business. Other SDM participants are motivated by a commitment to environmental stewardship to more carefully target their fishing effort (e.g. to minimize bycatch and habitat impacts).

Based on outcomes to date, the next steps for the two SGEPs include:

  • Further evaluation and updates of SDM information. It is important to continue to evaluate the utility and efficacy of written products and classes/ workshops, including where, how and in what format they have been provided/ disseminated. These likely will need to be updated given rapid changes in communication methods and small-scale fisheries demographics. In particular, younger fishery participants typically use different means for communicating and sharing information, notably social media, as compared to older participants.

  • More directed outreach with a broader range of cultural and social groups. Consistent with the states' sociocultural and ethnic diversity, small-scale fisheries participants come from a diversity of backgrounds, and they would be better served if the materials were translated into other languages, and classes/ workshops were adapted to ensure cultural appropriateness.

  • Working with government agencies to expand their capacity to support SDM. There is a persistent need in the United States of America to coordinate regulatory processes for establishing and operating SDM arrangements. Adapting existing policy for agricultural direct marketing to SDM may help address this need. Education of resource and public health agencies about fisheries and seafood safety also is essential for ensuring that fishermen can readily sell their catch and consumers can access properly handled and safe local seafood.

  • More explicit integration with climate change considerations. Changing environmental conditions are contributing to changes in the distribution of fish (e.g. Perry et al., 2005; Link et al., 2009; Pinsky et al., 2019). To enable small-scale fishermen and fishing communities to adapt to changing resource availability, more flexible rules to enable both catching and marketing available species may be needed. In addition, climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of harmful algal blooms with negative consequences for small-scale fisheries.^18^ Investigations of how SDM efforts can continue to operate while addressing emerging health-related concerns from biotoxins will undoubtedly be needed.

The good practice of assisting with SDM evaluation and development as described here has implications for small-scale fishermen, communities and policy in the United States of America and elsewhere. For fishermen considering SDM, it can reduce the risk of making choices that may not be suitable for them given their personal, fishery and community context. The information provided increases their ability to design SDM arrangements that are tailored to their particular circumstances. Broader community engagement through SDM can help build shared understanding of those involved in the local seafood supply chain, from fishermen to consumers. That engagement also can facilitate access to and sharing of social and financial capital necessary to assist in the establishment and operation of SDM. This can be done informally and opportunistically or through more formal arrangements such as cooperatives, marketing associations or broader community organizations.

In many contexts, SDM is a complement rather than an alternative to existing marketing arrangements. For those involved in long supply chain marketing, it can have negative or positive effects. The amount of seafood sold via SDM typically is quite small, and the particular products may be the same as or similar to those that long supply chain buyers handle. As such, direct marketers are rarely able to compete on price; however, they often place added emphasis on quality to gain a market advantage. This in turn encourages other harvesters and processors to improve their own handling practices, which can lead to enhanced product quality and safety, positively affecting the reputation of the fishery and its products overall.

Further, SDM can benefit the larger supply chain by highlighting the positive attributes of local products. Many traditional seafood buyers and processors, even some initially concerned about reduced deliveries from fishermen who pursue SDM, have indicated that the small amounts of product used for SDM efforts have not negatively affected their operations. Moreover, they have benefited from the increased consumer knowledge of local products resulting from SDM and from the SGEPs' outreach efforts. Similarly, small-scale fish buyers have tended to benefit from SDM because it provides them with access to product that otherwise would be purchased by larger, vertically integrated seafood businesses (i.e. their competitors).

Because permit requirements for SDM can be complex, engagement of agencies responsible for overseeing seafood handling, safety and commerce also is essential. Their participation ensures that accurate information is provided for the various options that may be explored. In both Alaska and California, agency personnel have reviewed SDM materials, co-authored publications on requirements for SDM, worked extensively on quality handling efforts, and attended SDM workshops to answer fishermen's questions. To those seeking to assist fishermen and communities with identifying and assessing SDM options, the following also are recommended:

  • Work with the experts. Engage existing direct marketers to help write, teach and evaluate the efforts.

  • Remain neutral. Emphasize that SDM is not for everyone. Dissuading someone from SDM where it is impractical or risky is as important as assisting someone in integrating SDM into their fishing business.

  • Recognize that SDM is not an "all or nothing" strategy. Interest in SDM, and its suitability for a given context, may vary over time. Interest in -- and arguably the need for -- direct marketing tends to ebb and flow as dockside prices and other conditions fluctuate.

  • Use multiple delivery methods, and adjust them depending on the context and the assistance needed. Couple the provision of information materials and workshops with ongoing one-on-one consultations with existing and potential direct marketers. This is particularly important when small-scale fishermen begin to explore and try actual markets and marketing techniques.

  • Develop suitable materials and disseminate them through appropriate channels. In developing SDM materials, focus on practical considerations, present the information in culturally appropriate and user-friendly ways, and distribute it through diverse avenues accessible to the range of potential users. The materials should address questions raised during ongoing engagement (e.g. individual consultations, previous workshops, collaborative research) and be tailored to seafood direct marketers' community and policy context. For example, developing brief topical pamphlets and distributing them online and through community- based groups or public facilities can be done at little or no cost.

While SDM may not be applicable in all countries and communities, the SDM good practice described here can be applied in many contexts. Trusted individuals or groups can assist fishermen and communities with assessing their needs and evaluating SDM opportunities while refraining from advocating particular actions. They should have a sufficient understanding of the community context and the skills to navigate complex relationships between fishermen and others in the seafood supply chain. This requires a sustained commitment over time. Ongoing efforts to extend the SGEP model to other countries as, for example in Indonesia with the Sea Partnership Program17, provide opportunities to expand use of the practice there and elsewhere.

The expanded use of SDM in other countries may be more feasible today than it has been in the past. Improvements in communication, including widespread use of social media, transportation infrastructure and seafood handling technology, provide new opportunities for connecting fishermen with consumers locally and further afield and facilitate the production and distribution of safe, high-quality seafood. SDM in turn can contribute to poverty eradication by potentially maintaining or enhancing access to a local, nutritious food source for communities where it is produced, and by enabling fishermen to retain more of the value of their catch than they would through long supply chains. However, the increased revenue comes at the cost of additional time, effort and, in some cases, possible loss of logistical and other assistance from traditional buyers. In addition, seafood direct marketers typically do not have access to a diversity of product sources that can help buffer against variability in catches, and they depend on their customers being willing and able to accommodate this uncertainty. Domestic and international tourism can be part of this customer base, with seafood marketed directly by fishermen through restaurants, hotels, and other venues. While evidence suggests that SDM in the United States of America has improved economic outcomes for some small-scale fishermen, many fishermen involved in SDM cite non-monetary social benefits such as increased independence, control over how their product is handled, and connections with their communities and seafood consumers as indicators of success and enhanced well-being (Culver et al., 2015; Haig-Brown, 2012).

Fishermen and communities on the West Coast of the United States of America perennially face challenges to their livelihoods, be they regulatory, operational, environmental or economic. Recognizing these dynamics, Alaska and California SGEP advisors have conducted research, education and outreach to assist fishermen and their communities in the careful consideration and, where appropriate, adoption, of SDM as a way to address these challenges. Using the place-based SGEP model, SGEP advisors have developed a good practice and assisted individuals and communities in building capacity to produce and market safe seafood products through SDM.

Efforts to date have helped to support sound decision-making, build SDM capacity, and expand understanding -- on the part of fishermen, community members and policymakers -- of the practicalities, considerations and limitations of SDM. With advances in communication technologies, increased understanding of the nutritional benefits of seafood, desire for locally sourced products and persistent uncertainty in global trade, opportunities to use SDM likely will grow. Yet this growth undoubtedly will continue to be slow, as establishing and maintaining SDM poses its own challenges, and depends on the individuals and the context.


Individually and collectively, the efforts described in this case study illustrate how the SDM good practice can inform implementation of the recommendations of Chapter 7 of the SSF Guidelines (FAO, 2015). Specifically, it enhances capacity by supporting the small-scale fisheries post-harvest sector through SDM (paragraph 7.3). This good practice not only helps enable enhanced financial security for small-scale fishermen by providing access to additional markets (paragraph 7.6) and market information (paragraph 7.10), it also helps prevent them from pursuing SDM when it would not be financially advantageous (paragraph 7.4).

The Alaska and California SGEPs, individually and in collaboration with others, will continue to apply and improve this good practice to facilitate small-scale fishermen's consideration of SDM. In doing so, they will contribute further to the implementation of the SSF Guidelines recommendations related to value chains, post-harvest and trade, while reinforcing the principles of respect of cultures, consultation and participation, feasibility, and social and economic viability.

We gratefully acknowledge seafood direct marketers and other fishing community members in Alaska, California and elsewhere in the US for sharing their stories, knowledge, insight and expertise; Quentin Fong, Pete Granger, Glenn Haight, Terry Johnson and Cynthia Wallesz for their extensive input and helpful review; Joseph Zelasney, Alexander Ford and Lena Westlund at FAO for thoughtful review, guidance and support; and our colleagues in the larger US Sea Extension Network. We also acknowledge support from the Alaska and California Sea Grant programs and the National Sea Grant College Program, NOAA, US Department of Commerce.

Alaska Sea Grant College Program 2018. Alaska Sea Grant College Program Strategic Plan, 2018-2021. Fairbanks, AK, USA: Alaska Sea Grant College Program. (available at

Bunting-Howarth, K. 2013. Fundamentals of a Sea Grant Extension Program. Second Edition ed., Washington, DC: National Sea Grant College Program. (available at http://

Culver, C., Stroud, A., Pomeroy, C., Doyle, J., Von Harten, A. & Georgilas, N. 2015. Market Your Catch. Website developed as a product of the project, Toward resilience and sustainable seafood supply: assessing direct marketing programs for West Coast fishing communities, B. Walker, C. Pomeroy, C. Culver and K. Selkoe, co-PIs. [Online]. Available:

Dewees, C., Sortais, K. & Leet, W. 2004. Conserving California fish: extension approaches applied to contentious marine-fisheries management issues. California Agriculture, 58, 194-199.

Doyle, J. 1992. Care and handling of salmon: the key to quality. Fairbanks, AK, USA: Alaska Sea Grant. (available at

FAO. 2015. Voluntary guidelines for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries in the context of food security and poverty eradication, Rome, FAO. (available at

Haig-Brown, A. 2012. Bloodlines: Knutson family meshes Southeast salmon with specialty marketing. National Fisherman. 93, 24-25.

Haight, G. & Rice, S., eds. 2008. The fish entrepreneur: resources for Alaska's direct seafood marketers (Developing pricing strategies for direct marketers). Fishbiz: Alaska Fisheries Business Assistance. 2 (available at

Henry, M., Rhodes, R. & Eades, D. 2008. The flow of South Carolina harvested seafood products through South Carolina markets. University Center Research Report 09-2008-

03. Clemson, SC, USA: Clemson University Center for Economic Development. (available at

Johnson, T. (ed.) 1997. Alaska fisherman's direct marketing manual. Prepared for the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development, Division of Trade and Development (ADCEDD) and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Juneau, AK, USA: ADCEDD.

Johnson, T. (ed.) 2007. Fishermen's Direct Marketing Manual. 4^th^ ed. Seattle, WA, USA: Washington Sea Grant. (available at

Johnson, T. (ed.) 2018. Fishermen's direct marketing manual, 5^th^ ed. Seattle, WA, USA: Alaska Sea Grant and Washington Sea Grant. (available at

Knapp, G. & Reeve, T. 2008. A village fish processing plant: yes or no? a planning handbook. Anchorage, AK, USA: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska. (available at

Link, J., Hare, J. & Overholtz, W. 2009. Changing spatial distribution of fish stocks in relation to climate and population size on the Northeast United Sates continental shelf. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 393, 111-129.

Norman, K., Sepez, J., Lazrus, H., Milne, N., Package, C., Russell, S., Grant, K., Lewis, R., Primo, J., Springer, E., Styles, M., Tilt, B. & Vaccaro, I. 2007. Community profiles for West Coast and North Pacific fisheries: Washington, Oregon, California, and other US states. Seattle, WA: NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center. (available at

Olson, J., Clay, P. & Pinto Da Silva, P. 2014. Putting the seafood in sustainable food systems. Marine Policy, 43, 104-111.

Perry, A.L., Low, P.J., Ellis, J.R. & Reynolds, J.D. 2005. Climate change and distribution shifts in marine fishes. Science, 308, 1912-1915.

Pinsky, M.L., Selden, R.L. & Kitchel, Z.J. 2020. Climate-driven shifts in marine species ranges: scaling from organisms to communities. Annual Review of Marine Science, 12, 153-179.

Pomeroy, C., Thomson, C. & Stevens, M. 2010. California's North Coast fishing communities: historical perspective and recent trends. La Jolla, CA, USA: California Sea Grant and NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center. (available at https://

State of California. 2015. AB-226 Retail food safety: fishermen's markets. [Available at:

Sumaila, U.R., Marsden, D., Watson, R. & Pauly, D. 2007. Global ex-vessel fish price database: construction and applications. Journal of Bioeconomics, 9, 39-51.

US Congress 1996. Sustainable Fisheries Act. Public Law 104-297. ( available at

Types of seafood direct marketing arrangements

Type of market Description
Off-the-boat/over-the-bank sales Catch sold directly from boats at the docks, a beach or a riverbank
Fishers’/farmers’ markets Catch sold directly to consumers as part of an established community
Community-supported fisheries Catch sold directly to consumers who buy a certain amount of seafood up front (“subscriptions” or “shares”), with deliveries to a predetermined location on a set schedule for a fixed period of time
Seafood buying clubs Catch sold directly to a coordinator of a food buying club
Online markets Catch sold by communicating with or accepting direct orders from customers using electronic technologies, such as eLists, eServices and online sales
Restaurants or retail market sales Catch sold directly to restaurants and retail markets
Institutional sales Catch sold directly to food service operators such as schools, hospitals, private and government organizations, who then prepare and serve the product to consumers
"Your Own Market" or restaurant Catch sold directly to consumers at a fisher-operated structure such as a fully outfitted building, roadside stand or food truck

Source: Culver et al., 2015

Alaska and California Sea Grant good practice elements addressing the SSF Guidelines Chapter 7 recommendations related to value chains, post-harvest and trade

 7.3 Provide appropriate infrastructure (a),organizational structures (b), and capacitydevelopment (c) for producing quality and safe fish products7.4 Support associations and individual fishers to promote theircapacity to enhance their income and livelihood security (d), and marketing mechanisms (e)7.6 Facilitate access to local (f), national (g), and international (h) markets and introduce trade regulations and procedures to supporttrade in markets (i)7.10 Facilitate access to relevant market andtrade information (j)AlaskaFishermen’s Direct Marketing ManualCd, ef, g Community cold storage projectAd, ef, g, h Individual consultations: business information and assessment C d, e f, g, h jFish Entrepreneur and attempts to get direct marketers organized b, c d, e  Workshops: direct marketing, quality handling C d, e f, g CaliforniaCommunity-supported fishery feasibility study d, efjSeafood direct marketing arrangements studyCd, ef, gjMarket Your Catch websiteCd, ef, gjWorkshops: direct marketing, seafood safety and quality, commercial fisheries C d, e f, g j“Pacific to Plate” legislation/dockside markets  e f, i 

Source: Zelasney, J., Ford, A., Westlund, L., Ward, A. and Riego Peñarubia, O. eds. 2020. Securing sustainable small-scale fisheries: Showcasing applied practices in value chains, post-harvest operations and trade. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 652. Rome, FAO.

  1. We use the term 'fisherman(men)' as it is accepted and typically preferred by men and women who fish off the United States West Coast. 

  2. For more information on the SDM and other activities of the individual SGEPs: https://seagrant.noaa. gov/extension. 

  3. For descriptions of the gear types described, 

  4. In Alaska, with the emergence of SDM, small processors specialized in smoking, canning and handling small-volume fishery products have expanded to become "custom processors" for seafood direct marketers. They often accept small orders and charge a per-pound fee for specialty processing, labelling, freezing and/or storing product. 


  6. For information, 




  10. California SGEP advisors have provided seafood processing and marketing assistance since 1974, albeit not specific to SDM. 

  11. California Marine Life Management Act of 1998 and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, US Public Law 94-265 et seq. 



  14. For more information: 


  16. For data on Alaska, see Analogous data for California are not readily available. 

  17. For more information:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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