Co-Founder of Dock to Dish, a Community and Restaurant Supported Fishery that distributes sustainably harvested seafood to members within 24 hours from the dock
Sean Barrett is a lifelong fisherman, environmental conservationist, and restaurateur. He founded the Dock to Dish movement in Montauk in 2012 after establishing the original harbor-based Community Supported Fishery (CSF) program of New York State. Through Sean's vision and leadership, the program developed a new way to source and deliver accurately curated, traceable, and sustainably harvested seafood hauls to members of cooperatives — in a way that had never been done before.
After expanding the Dock to Dish CSF program from eastern Long Island throughout New York City and north into Westchester County, he launched the first Restaurant Supported Fishery (RSF) program in North America in 2013. The RSF connects an expansive network of culinary leaders and now has thriving RSF outposts operating in Florida, California and Canada. They plan to open an outpost in Costa Rica sometime in 2016.
Sean works closely with the Amagansett Food Institute and the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association. He has been honored as Man of the Year by the United Restaurant and Tavern Owner's Association (URTO) of New York State. His work has been highlighted by the TED Organization and featured repeatedly in the New York Times and on PBS Channel Thirteen. In January of 2015, Sean was named to Grist Magazine's list of ‘The 50 People You'll Be Talking About in 2016.’ In March of 2015, Sean was named to Bon Appetit's list of the 7 most influential leaders in the drive towards "the future of food."
What is your seafood story?
I was born into the restaurant industry and grew up fishing both the inshore and offshore waters of Montauk and Shinnecock. According to my folks, I often needed to have my fishing rod pried from my hands, and that all started shortly after I learned to walk and talk. They would ship me off to basketball camp and I would come home with a Best Fisherman Trophy. I opened my first restaurant at the age of 24 and have spent my entire life working on docks or with dishes.
Operating Dock to Dish programs is literally what I was born to do.
Why did you found Dock to Dish?
I co-founded Dock to Dish with the help of thirty-six commercial fishing partners, many of whom are longtime friends. Collectively we have over 500 years of experience working on the water. We all believe that the best way to eat fish is the way it had been done throughout history: when the “catch of the day” was really caught that day.This idea harkens back to the times of colonial concierge fisherman who brought their haul to the back doors of restaurants, who served the fish that night. I had this experience in a coastal town in Spain and it has tugged at me for years. Now, with the help of trusted neighbors in the fields of health, nutrition, and environmental law, and conservation⎯and the almighty support of the Google Corporation⎯Dock to Dish provides our members with impeccably fresh, source transparent seafood, caught with the consumer and the planet in mind.
What makes Dock to Dish unique?
Our mission is to support the short- and long-term health of Montauk’s fisheries by engaging seafood producers and consumers through a membership-based marketplace. In our programs⎯which have since expanded to the west coast and into Canada⎯local commercial fishers are incentivized to target a broad spectrum of sustainable seafood and to harvest fish and shellfish using practices with the least possible environmental impact. We have re-focused multiple community-based fisheries on the economic and ecological benefits of specializing in traceable, sustainable seafood production by creating a “know your fishermen” culture with genuine source transparency.
How does Dock to Dish promote better fishing practices?
The preferred method of a sector of our fishermen’s alliance—spearfishing—is regularly highlighted as one of the most sustainable in the world. Spearfishing is an ancient, highly selective method of fishing that uses no bait and has a 0% by-catch rate. With moderate to good visibility underwater, our marksman divers can harvest precise quantities of our targeted species. Further, they intentionally fish in a gender specific fashion, sparing any egg-carrying females from being included in their hauls. Our divers are committed to retrieving the lost fishing gear ("ghost traps" and "ghost nets"). The abandoned and reclaimed equipment is then donated to local Montauk artisans who create handcrafted jewelry, art and furniture with the materials.