5 things I learned from...disrupting the seafood industry

Nicole Sara Sivens
June 25, 2018
10 min read
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Ren Ostry is the founder of Trashfish, a weekly membership program offering sustainable seafood, a locally made pantry item, and a recipe. Based in Culver City, Ren hand packs the boxes and mans the stalls at farmers markets all over LA.

Trashfish deconstructs the global industrial food system by offering 100% traceable, sustainable, and affordable seafood. Her mission is to provide seafood that you can trust.

Knowing that accountability can only come from traceability, Ren commits herself to a high standard, ensuring the fisheries she sources from are sustainable.

Her definition of “sustainable” uses the triple bottom line approach: One that considers economic, social, and financial impacts. This means that the fishery population must be healthy, that the catch method must cause minimal harm to the ecosystem, and that the fishermen must be paid a fair wage.

Ren Ostry, founder of Trashfish
Ren Ostry, Trashfish

Choice fatigue is real

Even the most conscious consumers can often find making sustainable seafood choices daunting and overwhelming. What's so bad about farmed fish? Should I feel guilty about eating shrimp? How do I know what's local and seasonal? What even is rock cod? Trashfish takes the guesswork and stress out by curating easy and fun dinner boxes every week. We'll always let you know the name of the boat, the catch-method, and why it's a fish worth eating.

Think about the little guy

More often than not, fishermen get paid pennies on the pound for their baitfish and bycatch. Imagine a big tuna boat going out for two weeks from San Diego. Tuna swim in large schools and are easily tracked using boat radar. But it's not just tuna that make it onto the boat – large pelagic fish that compete with the tuna for food and other resources are caught along the route and with the schools of tuna. The boat comes back with opah, monching, ono and more. This fish is called "incidental catch," as it was not a "targeted species," and makes up a decent percentage of poundage that the fishermen bring in. Large seafood distributors only want the tuna – but what happens to the rest of it? Our mission is to make sure that fish has a local and grateful home, while at the same time can be used by a consumer who would otherwise go buy tuna.

Plan to scale (pun intended)

Lucky for us, the fish we source isn't going anywhere! Scale was built into the model from day one. We're building our network of local fishermen and food producers now to ensure there's always enough to go around. We're also moving into a shared commercial kitchen space next month to have space for packaging and food storage. Our locally made pantry items - like chef-made sauces, spice blends, and preserved ranch produce is also abundant. We'll be doing more custom-made sauces and spices from local bulk producers and chefs as well as maintaining a focus on seasonal products. We look forward to using our market to celebrate and elevate not just underloved fish, but local food producers as well.

Press is nice, but it’s not everything

Being nominated for Forbes 30 Under 30 in Food and wine was amazing. Forbes is a welcoming community full of some of the most hard working, creative, and inspiring young people I've ever met. Since the nomination, we've received an investment from another Forbes winner. However, I don't find that our consumers even know about the nomination or our media hits. Right now we're still focusing growth at the grassroots level, talking to people at farmers markets and community events. In the coming months, we'll be doing a harder online push, switching to a more user-friendly software and investing in professional PR and Media support. At that time I'm hoping our success with Vogue, Forbes, and Inc. help build credibility in the online monthly membership world.

Chef and fishermen are salty creatures

We do what we do so they don't have to. Catching and preparing food is different from educating and organizing. In California, there definitely seems to be more overlap than in other cities, but we'd like our fishermen and chefs to be able to focus on what they do best. And believe it or not, working with chefs has taught me the importance of branding more than anyone else has! In Los Angeles, you are what you cook (or sell, or make), and your story, your background, your knowledge will take you far. I like to go to a restaurant when I know where the chef grew up, where he or she got their influences, who they source from. I hope people will want to subscribe to Trashfish for the same reason and have made my life more open for that reason.

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