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Red's Best "Catch of the Week" Program at Harvard

Red's Best was founded in 2008 by Jared Auerbach, a young fisherman from Boston who worked on commercial vessels in Alaska and Cape Cod, MA. Based on his experiences working in the fishing industry, Jared established Red's Best to support New England day boat fishermen in finding markets for their catch – their whole catch, not just the most popular species.

Red's Best works with approximately 1,000 fishermen, unloading their daily catch, preparing the fish for sale (including cleaning, filleting and packaging), and finding buyers. By eliminating the traditional wholesale auction of one's fish and multiple middle-men, Red's Best ensures that the fishermen receive more of the profit for the fish they catch, even for underutilized species.

Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) partnered with Red's Best beginning in the spring of 2015. HUDS wanted to extend its local purchasing power in a way that supports the continuation of a vital New England livelihood - fishing! According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Massachusetts is home to some of the oldest fishing communities (such as Gloucester, founded in 1623). Boston’s Fish Pier, where Red's is based, opened in 1914, making it the oldest continuously operating fish pier in the U.S.

Efforts to manage fisheries and restore fish stocks in the Atlantic Ocean have instituted catch limits that sometimes challenge a New England fishermen's ability to make a viable living, especially when consumers have a very narrow view of what species they can or like to eat. As a result, the local fishing community has dwindled over recent decades.

To create a continuous and guaranteed revenue stream for Boston-area fishermen, Red's Best and HUDS worked together to establish the "Catch of the Week" program, in which HUDS has a standing commitment to buy a significant volume of fish (approximately 900 pounds per week), and Red's established a set price per pound for that fish without market fluctuations.

Furthermore, the program features underutilized species or by-catch, thus making local seafood consumption sustainable by:
    •    utilizing the full catch,
    •    introducing new varieties of fish – all selected for their ease of cooking and familiar flavor profile, if not name  – to consumers (species used have included hake, haddock, pollock, skate, monkfish and dogfish),
    •    and ensuring a fisherman can sell the day's catch, making his costs to fish a worthwhile investment.

The program also advances HUDS' efforts to "serve more kinds of seafood more often," both in answer to the Menus of Change Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus and increased customer interest in and acceptability of seafood.

How it Works:
    •    HUDS determined a day of the week for the "Catch" program – initially Fridays at lunch – and identified the total locations and volume of fish to participate (all 13 residential locations plus 5 retail cafes, for a total of almost 900 pounds).
    •    Red's Best and HUDS agreed on a variety of species to be included in the program and a single set price per pound regardless of which of those varieties of fish is used.
    •    HUDS created six to eight different standard recipes for the Catch of the Week, recognizing that a number of traditional cooking methods could be applied to any of the specified fish. These recipes were entered into HUDS' menu management system to be readily available based on the fish and preparation selected. All rely on common ingredients in the kitchen, and therefore don't require additional sourcing or ordering.
    •    On Monday HUDS officially submits its order to Sysco and Red's Best, modifying volume modestly as appropriate. Sysco ultimately receives the fish from Red's Best and includes it on the regular HUDS delivery at the end of the week (an efficiency for both Red's and HUDS).
    •    On Wednesday, Red's Best informs HUDS of the type of fish being delivered (as needed, the Catch might be split between more than one kind of fish, though each dining hall will only receive one kind of fish). Typically the fish is fresh, caught in the preceding day or two. Occasionally, as weather and catch impacts availability, the fish may be frozen.
    •    On Thursday, HUDS informs its chefs which fish will arrive and what method of preparation should be applied (most recipes are applicable to multiple kinds of seafood). On that day, HUDS also circulates point-of-sale signage showcasing the type of fish, including information of the fisherman and fishing vessel that caught the fish, as traceable through the Red's Best proprietary tracing software. Additional education highlights the type of fish, the history of New England fishing, etc
    •    On Friday, the "Catch of the Week" is served and promoted via social media, as well as highlighted in the dining hall.
    •    Further education programs – from sampling fairs, cooking classes, classroom presentations, pier tours, and more – also familiarize guests with Red's Best and allow students to better understand the local fishing industry.

The program has been so successful and well-received by students that a second "Catch of the Week" was added on Wednesdays at dinner, following the same protocol.

Interested in starting your own Catch of the Week program? Contact Jared Auerbach at jared@redsbest.com or Molly Bajgot at molly@redsbest.com.