November 1, 2013
The Japanese fisherman caught a goliath grouper and began to cry. That was when Hoyt Peckham knew things had to change.
Peckham had been in the fishing industry for decades, fishing and advising fishing communities in Maine, the Caribbean, Mexico, Polynesia, and Southeast Asia. He had organized exchanges among Japanese, Hawaiian, and Mexican fishermen to share practices by hosting each other in their home waters.
The Japanese fisherman cried in part because he would never be able to catch a fish like that at home. Old, slow-growing groupers the size of a person are long gone in Japan. But even more, he said, he cried for how poorly the fish was handled. In Japan, even the smallest fish is handled and packaged with care on the boat to preserve quality.
In Mexico, even a prize like the goliath grouper was not killed properly, bled, iced, or even kept out of the sun. It had deteriorated considerably by the time it got to port. Destined to have a fishy taste, it would be sold at a low price.
The fisherman’s tears moved Peckham to found SmartFish, a for-profit company that rescues value in the fish market by helping fishermen deliver better-quality fish to the docks and sell those fish in premium markets. By helping fishermen get more for each fish, SmartFish aims to reduce overfishing while improving local livelihoods.