The Future of New England Seafood
Red’s Best Charts a Path Forward for Locally Sourced Seafood
It’s a cold February morning in the middle of the slow season for the seafood industry, but the floor of Red’s Best on the Boston Fish Pier is buzzing with workers shoveling ice and packing boxes of fresh seafood. In the office, four or five employees are hurriedly writing e-mails and picking up phones, selling seafood to wholesalers and restaurants across the region. In another room, two skilled fish cutters are quickly slicing and candling fluke fillets.
The owner and CEO of Red’s Best, Jared Auerbach, practically leaps from crate to crate showing us the impressive variety and quality of seafood his business carries. He slices up a tender surf clam for us to try, picks up a skate wing that just came off the boat that morning, and points out a gleaming black sea bass. The pride he takes in his seafood is palpable.
Jared and Red’s Best are a bit of an anomaly. In a business of old-timers, Jared is a newcomer, spending a few years on commercial vessels before he decided to see how things work on the land side of the pier. Red’s Best is developing innovative technology to change the way fishermen sell to distributors and the way restaurateurs and consumers trace their seafood from boat to plate. And notwithstanding the gloom surrounding some of New England fishing operations, his business is thriving—since beginning six years ago, it’s grown from one employee to about fifty.
“This industry is archaic,” he says as he scrolls through an iPhone app that lets him track in real time where and when boats he buys from will be landing and what species they’ll be offloading. With that information, he can dispatch one of his fleet of Red’s Best trucks right to the port and have fresh fish back in his distribution center just hours after it’s caught. What’s more, he can trace what vessel caught which fish with what gear and code that information to a QR code placed on a label affixed to each shipment, allowing his customers to find out exactly where their seafood comes from. His website displays new seafood arrivals to wholesalers and helps fishermen track their sales history.
All this technology gives Red’s Best a competitive advantage, reducing transaction costs and creating new efficiency in the distribution process. It also let them work more effectively with day boat coastal fishermen, building on the relationships Jared built in his years working on commercial vessels. During the summer months, Red’s Best buys from up to 200 vessels each day, and two thirds of the seafood they sell comes from these regional day boats.
The Red’s Best model charts a new path forward for sustainable, locally sourced seafood. Allowing consumers to easily trace the origin of their fish helps everyone make better choices about their seafood purchases. Buying from the day boat fleet supports fishermen with the best prices, creates a relationship that will result in better seafood harvesting and handling, and encourages stewardship of a public resource. And Jared’s expertise in selling the right seafood to his customers—a process he describes as “matchmaking”—encourages the purchase of seasonal, local fish and helps him sell relatively abundant species like skates.
Jared says sustainability isn’t his primary goal—Red’s Best “works for the boats”— and he simply tries to provide consumers all the information they ask for. When asked about the state of fish stocks, he says he trusts that current federal regulations will help rebuild fish populations and understands that that is an important goal for management. At the same time, he feels that consumers should feel good about eating well-regulated local products.
But regardless of his focus, the Red’s Best experience shows that in the hands of a forward-looking and hard working New Englander, the integration of new technologies with traditional distribution systems can improve efficiency, strengthen prices to the boat, and ensure seafood traceability. Such innovation is good for everyone—distributors, fishermen, consumers—while preserving a healthy ocean off our shores.