I got a chance to talk with Brandon Hill, Bamboo Sushi’s director of operations, at the GoGreen Conference in Portland yesterday. He was part of a panel discussion about building a global model for sustainable supply chains.
Buying seafood directly from the fishermen is great, the panel agreed, but it’s not always feasible.
Hill said Bamboo Sushi, which has been recognized as the most sustainable seafood restaurant in the country, strikes a balance between working directly with fishermen and using distributors to quickly deliver the right amount of fresh fish for the restaurant, said Hill.
To get Oregon albacore tuna, for example, the restaurant orders fish directly from one tuna boat and then works with Bornstein Seafoods in Astoria, where it is processed and handed it off to a distributor.
“We find the product we want and arrange it directly with Bornstein’s,” he said. “The fishermen know they’re fishing for us. It passes through fewer people’s hands, so we know exactly what it is and it takes out the guesswork.”
It wasn’t easy to arrange a sustainable supply chain, he said. It took 18 months to put it together after the restaurant owners decided they wanted to source all their seafood sustainably.
And the supply is constantly changing depending on how much fish is available where and when.
“Fish is the last food you actually have to go out and hunt,” he said. “We’re constantly renegotiating deals. It’s a lot of work.”
But the more direct sourcing approach delivers higher quality seafood for the restaurant without a huge jump in price, he said.
The fisherman who supplies some of the restaurant’s salmon in Alaska saves the best fish for Bamboo Sushi because he knows he has a buyer and he knows the price he’ll get, Hill said. The same isn’t true for the rest of his catch.
“He knows when he’s catching the fish that the fish has a home,” he said. “We know where the product is coming from and that it’s good stuff.”
Hill’s restaurant only buys seafood that is green or yellow on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide. But with more than 30 species on the menu, Hill said, the fish has to come from all over the world.
“We can’t get everything off the Oregon coast,” he said.
The restaurant does get a long list of seafood from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, including geoduck, black cod, oysters, coho, sockeye and king salmon, Dungeness crab, scallops and pollock.
For the seafood that comes from farther away “the carbon is on it,” he said. To reduce the carbon footprint of its seafood purchases, the restaurant groups seafood deliveries together.
“It lowers the shipping cost and the carbon footprint,” said Hill.
Some of the restaurant’s fish comes from “the most exceptional” fish farms, such as Kona Blue in Hawaii. Kona Blue uses deep sea net pens to raise amber jack and has worked to reduce the amount of wild-caught fish needed to produce farmed fish so it’s close to a one-to-one ratio, Hill said.
Long term, he said, the restaurant is working to replenish fish species that have been depleted by overfishing and move fish from the Seafood Watch “red list” to the “green list.”
The restaurant has given $250,000 to The Nature Conservancy to help preserve a 405,000-acre marine protected area in the Bahamas.
“There’s not enough sustainable seafood in the world to support all these big companies going sustainable,” said Hill. “Our goal is for every pound of seafood we take out of the ocean, we put two back.”