From Seafood News by Susan Chambers, reprinted with permission
The brainstorm by fishermen, processors, environmental groups and seafood certifiers of telling the West Coast rockfish story has taken a major step forward: The Groundfish Marketing Development Initiative hired Jana Hennig as its director this month.
Mostly absent from markets in both coastal and inland areas, rockfish moved from a mainstay on menus and in seafood counters to an insiders-only secret over the past 15-plus years. Stock assessments in the early 2000s showed low populations of some species, dooming them to the dreaded listing of overfished and requiring harsh fishing limits to rebuild them.
Fast-forward to 2015: Two species of rockfish were deemed rebuilt, allowing fishermen to once again target the coastal favorite whitefish. Stock assessments this year showed more rockfish above overfished thresholds but the determinations have yet to be approved. Regardless, population improvements will likely make it easier to pursue rockfish in greater volumes.
Thus the need for direction to reclaim lost — and lucrative — markets. The West Coast trawl industry needs to drive demand by telling the story, the rich history of groundfish fishermen and processors, and the Initiative’s leaders found their storyteller in Hennig.
“We’re going to personalize this fishery,” Pacific Seafood’s Mike Okoniewski said, “and tell the story of our people, our fishery.”
Hennig is the person to do that, he said.
“I firmly believe that we can achieve ecological and economic health for fisheries in tandem,” Hennig said in an email. “We have seen an amazing ecological recovery of our groundfish stocks on the West Coast, and I look forward to getting that message out there and bring back demand for these beautiful sustainably and American-caught fish.”
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Hennig’s background provides the leverage to make rockfish a staple at dinner tables again. She’s worked in the food industry for 10 years in sales, product development, marketing, campaigns to drive demand, and e-commerce. She worked on the London 2012 Olympic Games, where she built partnerships with sponsors, non-profits and retailers and ran collaborative marketing campaigns promoting the missions of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
But her interest in fish and seafood started small, in Madagascar, during a six-month sabbatical in 2012-13.
“I had gone to work on a marine conservation project in southwest Madagascar where I helped survey a terribly overfished reef and count and identify fish,” Hennig said. “I learned a great deal about the ecological impact of harmful fishing practices and overfishing, but I could also see the grave impacts it had on the fishing community that depended on these resources. It broke my heart, and it stayed with me even after I went home.”
Upon returning, Hennig went back to school. She got an MBA from Stanford, a master’s in environmental resources management with a focus on oceans and fisheries and a certificate in public policy ad social innovation.
“I wanted to work at the intersection of these three fields and worked on projects and internships that looked at new business models or social interventions that would result in better ecological and economic outcomes in fisheries,” she said.
“We’re really excited to have her on board,” Oregon Trawl Commission Director Brad Pettinger said. “I think she’ll be a great fit and bring a fresh perspective.”
For now, Hennig is settling in, making appointments with fishermen and processors, getting a feel for the markets and opportunities.
“We want to generate more demand for U.S. West Coast groundfish, to make this fishery not just ecologically sustainable but also ensure its long-term economic sustainability,” Hennig said, noting that Initiative members haven’t yet decided on a specific strategy.
“But,” she added, “we will be telling America about this great sustainability come-back story, about the wonderful community of men and women that fish for it, and the unique tasty attributes of our rockfish, sole, thornyheads, skates, etc.”