The Three “C” OF SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD

A couple of years ago I found myself in a lively and invigorating conversation about sustainable seafood with two old friends as we were seated around a square wooden table covered with clam shells in the basement of Grand Central Station in New York City. It was springtime and we were having dinner at The Oyster Bar, a legendary old restaurant hidden deep beneath busy midtown Manhattan streets above. On my left sat Hans Pfister, co-founder of the Cayuga Collection, who had flown in earlier in the day to present at a conference on sustainable travel at the United Nations. To my right sat his fellow Cayuga co-founder, Andrea Bonilla, who had flown in only a few hours earlier to attend to matters with the Cornell School of Hotel Administration where she and Hans had both earned their hospitality degrees years earlier.  Both of them had arrived to the dinner meeting precisely on time after a full day of work and traveling thousands of miles, essentially coming straight from the airport to the restaurant in order to take a deep dive into the true meaning of sustainable seafood with me.

Dock to Dish in Action at Boca Chica, Golfo de Chiriqui, Panama.
Dock to Dish in Action at Boca Chica, Golfo de Chiriqui, Panama. This locally caught fish ends up on the plate of guests at Isla Palenque.

And take a deep dive we did. For hours we engaged in discussions about a broad spectrum of topics ranging from sustainable seafood rating systems to the rise of industrial aquaculture to climate change to carbon footprints and back to sustainable seafood rating systems again. This was an exercise that I had become accustomed to with Hans and Andrea, from the very first time we connected and discussed how we could build small Community Supported Fishery operations for each of their Cayuga Collection properties, to each of the programs and events we created along the way, Hans and Andrea were forever asking, exploring, thinking hard and talking (in numerous languages) for hours and hours about how we could do things better. Over the years, from Panama to Nicaragua and through all corners of Costa Rica, we had had many meetings such as this—huddled around a table or the hood of a car or a beach bonfire—thinking, debating, sharing ideas and driving ourselves further and further to improve.

Local fishermen's boat at the Pacificc Coast of Costa Rica near Kura.
Local fishermen’s boat at the Pacificc Coast of Costa Rica near Kura.

And on this night at the Oyster Bar, after hours of strategy discussions and evaluating how our work together could be strengthened, I realized that instead of teaching Hans and Andrea about sustainable seafood systems—that they had taught me about the true essence of what sustainable seafood really means. As dessert was being served and we ordered more coffees (while each of us wishing there was a Café Milagro blend on the menu) it suddenly dawned upon me that from the values and principles that Hans and Andrea had used to build the foundation of the Cayuga Collection, that three main pillars could be adapted and applied to the Dock to Dish philosophy to truly define the future of sustainable seafood.   

“I’ve got it!” I yelled, loud enough that the table next to us looked over. “The three Cs of sustainability.”  “Que es?” Andrea asked, with an inquisitive look.

Staff Training at Lapa Rios Lodge on the Osa Peninsula.
Staff Training at Lapa Rios Lodge on the Osa Peninsula. What does it mean to be part of the Dock to Dish Program?

And at that moment we discussed for the first time “The Three Cs of Seafood Sustainability” that have come to shape and inform all of the priorities and decisions that now guide Dock to Dish programs, not only at Cayuga, but all over the world.

C #1 – Community: at Cayuga the people and the community always occupy the first position of priority, and in seafood sourcing the same thing is true. By supporting local community fishermen and small-scale fishing communities, we are able to connect to the fishing families who are the true stewards of the local ecosystems and make sure their techniques and traditions are preserved and protected.

C #2 – Carbon Footprint: The age of climate change is now upon us and the carbon footprint of our seafood has quickly risen to be a main factor in sustainability. Instead of importing seafood from all over the world as many hotels and resorts do in order to satisfy the demands of the guests, the Dock to Dish programs at Cayuga instead source from nearby communities which generates the smallest carbon footprint possible.


C # 3 – Conservation: A constant concern of the Cayuga collection is the wellbeing and conservation of the majestic ecosystems and environments that their properties are located in. By weaving conservation into the DNA of the Dock to Dish programs, we encourage local artisanal fishermen to harvest seafood that is most abundant and replenishes most quickly. This philosophy helps to conserve the stocks of many popular fish and applies light harvesting pressure to a broader area of the fishery.  

Dock to Dish Central America
Dock to Dish Central America started in Manuel Antonio and Cayuga Collection’s Arenas del Mar Resort.

It is only now, years later, that I am able to realize how powerful a fourth “C” can be when it comes to generating philosophies and practices to create true sustainability in how we interact with the world.

C # 4 – Collaboration: and through our collaborations with the Cayuga Collection we have grown stronger, wiser and ever more curious about how we can constantly be improving and learning ways to do things better, to do things #TheCayugaWay.

The program Kura, Uvita, Costa Rica.
Sean explaining the program of Dock to Dish to Managers and Staff at Kura, Uvita, Costa Rica.


Guest Blog by Sean Barret: Sean is the founder of Dock to Dish® an organization headquartered in Montauk which operates the Community Supported Fishery program of New York State. Dock to Dish also performs advocacy work for traditional artisanal fishing communities around the world while guiding and operating hyperlocal wild seafood supply chains in California, Washington DC, Vancouver, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and the Republic of Fiji. Sean is a lifelong veteran of both the restaurant and commercial fishing industries of New York and an original founding member of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA), as well as LocalCatch.org and the Amagansett Food Institute (AFI).

He serves on the executive board of ‪GreenWave.org where his team works to pioneer and advance restorative 3D ocean farming and over the past two decades has been named Person of the Year by the United Restaurant and Tavern Owners (URTO) Association of New York State and nominated by both the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Carl Safina to be recognized by the White House as a United States Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood (during the previous administration). In 2016 he was appointed by Governor Cuomo to serve as a council member representing commercial fisheries on the Marine Resources Advisory Council (MRAC) at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and he is currently working directly with Senators Gillibrand (NY) and Markey (MA) establishing new federal fisheries laws in the US while guiding the ongoing prosecution of multiple seafood fraud cases and acting as a liaison and specialist for agents at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). 

Sean Barrett at Isla Palenque

Sean’s work in supporting small-scale artisanal fisheries has recently been featured in TIME Magazine, NY Times, NPR, Wall Street Journal, VICE, Forbes, National Geographic, Fast Company, New York Magazine, Washington Post, the Associated Press, LA Times and on TEDx, PBS, the Smithsonian Channel and ABC as well as appearing in numerous books including American Catch: The Fight for Local Seafood, by NY Times best-selling author Paul Greenberg. In the past five years Sean has been ranked among the 25 Most Intrepid Individuals by Vanity Fair magazine; named to Grist’s list of the Foremost 50 People Fighting for a More Sustainable Future; listed as one of Sonima’s top 50 Innovators Shaping the Future of Wellness; identified as one of the Top 7 Leaders of the Future of Food by Bon Appetit magazine; and designated as New York State’s ambassador to the “United States of Healthy” by editors of Cooking Light magazine. 

In June of 2017, the United Nations Foundation invited Sean to present his wild seafood sourcing model at the opening ceremonies of International Oceans Week in New York—and then identified Dock to Dish as a “breakthrough innovation” that is putting participants “on a path to healthy, valued and understood oceans.” Two months later, editors at the Wall Street Journal reported the Dock to Dish model as “the future of seafood sourcing” in their annual Future of Everything publication.

Lapa Rios Staff

A feature-length documentary on Sean’s work is scheduled to debut in numerous film festivals in 2020, a preview trailer can be viewed here: 

For more information about Dock to Dish please visit www.docktodish.com 

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