Fish Talk: Wild Alaskan Seafood Shipping Logistics
What does it take for you to receive your premium portions of Catch Sitka Wild Alaska Seafood on your doorstep in a pristine, frozen condition? This month we are doing a deep dive into all things logistics. One thing we should clear up right away is that shipping a frozen, perishable product is not simple. We are dealing with the ocean's cleanest seafood in a limited commodity that we revere and vow to maintain beyond our lifetime. We are also working to serve folks across the country who deserve to have the same experience at their dinner table that we are privileged with at ours. That’s the easy part, it’s the third component we deal with that, on occasion, muddies the waters - shipping logistics. Here we enter into our Hero's Quest to be our best and prevail over the mountains, ogres, and villains we battle with. You may know them by the names Covid-19, UPS, and FedEx.
If you have been a customer of ours for any period of time, then you are aware that we are a small family operation and that we believe in sustainability and being a good steward of our environment. That means we do things the old fashioned, slow way. Why, you ask? It’s mostly out of a stubborn streak that runs deep within the Samman family. There’s a strong possibility you might hear someone mutter the words, “Well then, I’ll just do it myself!” after which, said proclaimer more often than not, follows through with their threat…er, statement. We are passionate about seafood. Issam founded Catch Sitka in response to the lack of quality seafood available and with a strong vision for the quality of goods, services, and experiences he wanted customers to receive. The founding belief is that we want to be the best, most ethical and sustainable seafood company that we can be.
To be the best we can be does not equal to being the biggest or growing at all costs. We don’t buy fish from just any old boat in the harbor. We don’t use machines to filet or pin bone. We don’t subject our artisan filleters to grueling shifts, cutting fish all day and night. We ship only once a month. On occasion, we run out of some of our species because we never want to over-buy. And we won’t implement practices that affect the sustainability of our small family business. This means you won’t find perfectly uniform portions of fish in your box, but instead hand-cut, hearty filets. You may find yourself pin-boning your portion of King Salmon because we choose not to in order to preserve as much of the consumable flesh of the fish as possible while fileting. You may even find roe on your spot prawns. What all of this translates to is that you will have, on your table, the most minimally processed seafood, harvested in the most minimally invasive way from the most pristine and well managed sustainable fishery on earth, shipped directly to your door from our small family to yours.
Now, let’s look at the route your seafood takes from boat to plate and those mountains, ogres, and villains we were talking about earlier. As we previously explained, we take the utmost pride and care in every aspect of the journey that we have control over, from the moment it’s caught until the moment the shipping company picks the boxes up to deliver to you. However, once the logistics company has the boxes, there is little that our small family business can do if things go wrong - other than guarantee to you that we will do whatever it takes to make it right. One thing that most consumers are unaware of, is that since the pandemic began, the logistics companies have been claiming that all our missed deliveries are, “Acts of God.” Which they interpret to mean that they are not responsible for reimbursement of losses. Catch Sitka Seafoods shipped out our first boxes to customers nationwide in April of 2020. That means that for the past two years, we have had to swallow the cost of every late delivery. I’m sure you are aware, we are delivering a limited, perishable product and we have a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee that we actually stand by. So we will always refund or reship to you, at our loss.
On top of the expense of lost shipments, the prices quoted to us in the beginning when we printed shipping labels were often up to 50% less than the actual cost the logistics company charged us when the bill came. We went rounds with their people, but these companies are so large they don’t care. We hadn’t thought to take screenshots of each label’s price quote because we didn’t expect the discrepancy. Basically, they said, that’s just the way it is. Once we realized that we were at the mercy of the logistics companies, we realized we were truly on our own to come up with a solution and remain in business. In addition to the logistics issue, we had no access to dry ice on our small Southeast Alaskan island and the cost of getting shipping materials here was enormous. We knew something had to be done, but we weren’t willing to sacrifice the quality of our process, our values, or our product. We researched, spoke with others in our industry, and discovered another amazing family business in Portland, Oregon. They specialize in preparing frozen and perishable products for shipment and agreed to partner with us to fill each box with dry ice as a final step before shipping to you. That, along with the reusable, recyclable insulating coolers we use, which provide the most efficient insulation for our perishable product, gave us a frozen transit time of 3-4 days.
Even with these fail safes in place, we still experience occasional losses. Our dry ice and insulating coolers are sometimes no match for long delays in extreme heat, poor treatment, or miss-deliveries of our shipments by the logistics companies. Not to mention the often dizzying routes the companies send the boxes on. We have received emails asking why we shipped a box from Sitka to Portland to Memphis and then back to Washington for example. Unfortunately, we have no control over the path each box takes. Each logistics company has a few different hubs around the country. All shipments are sent to the various hubs to be sorted, sent on a new route and delivered, sometimes taking what seems to be an illogical journey to its intended destination. The majority of our shipments make it where they’re going with no issue. But occasionally the logistics companies will make a big error or experience what they call a “mechanical failure.” This is our worst nightmare. It means that all those beautiful portions of our Wild Alaskan blood, sweat and tears are likely to end up in the garbage and an angry email might end up in our inbox. Most of the time, the emailer assumes that all we did was put a couple of gel ice packs in the bottom of the cooler and send their order on its way, not realizing that the entire box was filled with dry ice that had since evaporated in transit.
A common misconception is if the fish doesn’t arrive completely frozen it’s unsafe to eat. However, since our fish has been line-caught, immediately cleaned, iced, portioned, and blast frozen to -30 degrees it is biologically only a few hours old when it arrives at your doorstep. If it arrives defrosted and still at refrigerator temperatures, all is not lost. Did you know that fish you buy at your grocer has often been frozen and refrozen several times before you take it home to prepare? That’s part of that fishy smell we all associate with the fishmonger and you can read more here. Your Catch Sitka portions have only been frozen once and at an incredibly rapid rate. They could be safely eaten, stored in the fridge or even refrozen for another day. We have actually received real complaints that our fish doesn’t smell like fish or taste fishy. To which we are never quite sure how to respond, since our goal is to deliver you the freshest most sustainable fish available, which means it shouldn’t smell like anything but the fresh clean ocean and taste like nothing but the best fish you have ever eaten.
Another issue customers sometimes bring to our attention is the matter of a loose seal or broken package. We want to take this opportunity to reassure you that each portion’s vacuum seals and packaging are carefully inspected before ever leaving our hands. We are a small family operation so we do everything by hand, even our vacuum packing. There is no portion of our process that is automated. We would never intentionally put anything in a box with a broken seal, although in transit with the logistics company, some portions may be jostled around enough to cause damage to their packaging. We always recommend you carefully inspect your box upon arrival. If you notice any loose seals, we recommend you reseal the portion in a zip-top freezer bag or with a home vacuum packer and consume it within a month. Of course, we leave it up to whatever you, the consumer is comfortable with and we will always honor our 100% Customer Satisfaction Guarantee.
The point is, the fish is so fresh that it can take a bit of a beating on the logistics journey and still be in a delicious, consumable condition when it arrives on your doorstep. And if anything goes wrong or if you’re uncomfortable for any reason, we have your back. Completely. 100%. We no longer spend any money on advertising (that’s another horror story for another day), our company grows solely through word of mouth. That means we live and die by our reputation, our service, and our products. We do nothing less than our best, every day for every customer, because to us - you are all family. So don’t worry about the villains we’ve mentioned above mucking up our Hero’s Quest. With your help, we will live to slay them all someday, together.
Stay tuned next month for more Fish Talk!
If you liked this, check out Fish Talk: How It’s Caught: Wild Alaskan Halibut & Sablefish (Black Cod). For great recipes be sure to check out our Recipe Box! Pro Tip: You can search any species using the magnifying glass in the menu to bring up recipes and more!