Steve Vilnit

Annapolis, MD

Director of Marketing and Business Development, JJ McDonnell & Co.

As the Director of Marketing and Business Development at JJ McDonnell and Co., Steve works closely with artisanal fisheries and small farms to tell their stories. He leads a team that helps to build economic viability for the local fishing industry; they help companies to promote their products and support them as they educate the food service industry. Prior to that role he worked with commercial watermen to promote Maryland’s sustainable fisheries and to build economic viability for local fishers at the Maryland Department for Natural Resources. He has spent the past decade focused on bolstering conservation and education within the seafood industry.


You recently switched from a public to private company. What prompted the change?

I wanted to take what I learned while working with the government and to apply it on a much larger scale. I’m excited to expand these projects beyond just Maryland and to work across the country alongside fisherman, industry, and government on issues of traceability and seafood fraud.

What is your background in sustainable seafood?

I graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in Marine Affairs in 1999 and have since been immersed in the seafood industry. After spending two years with Mitsubishi, importing tuna into the United States, I took a position at J.J. McDonnell & Co. in Jessup, Maryland. For the next decade, I worked to bring both seafood and education into some of the best retail outlets and restaurants in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. 

What is the role of education in your work?

We believe in the importance of the continuing seafood education for chefs. We take chefs out on the water to teach them a bit more about seafood and to help them gain greater appreciation for the waterman’s role. These chef education trips help to build value and appreciation for the product. 

Where does Future of Fish fit in?

My work aligns closely with Future of Fish’s idea of ‘Storied Fish’, the importance of giving the fish a story in order to create more value and more care for the fish. We share the goal of making fish more than just a commodity. Marketing the fish is using story to pass knowledge on to others so that they care more about the product. 

What excites you most about the future?

My new role opens up a whole new realm of products to work with and stories to tell. Not just the 5,500 fishers in the state of Maryland, but the guys in New Jersey or Gloucester or even Ohio. There’s so much more to learn about this industry and so much more to teach.