Sonia Strobel’s father-in-law, Otto Strobel, has been fishing the British Columbia coast since the 1960s. He’s seen the number of independent fishing vessels like his reduced to a skeleton fleet. Sonia and her husband Shaun started Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery (CSF) to make it possible for Otto and a few of the hold-out independents to continue fishing.

Sonia & Shawn Strobel

Skipper Otto’s CSF was the first CSF in Canada, and among the first in the world. It now supports a growing number of fishing families and provides an ever-growing number of sustainable, wild, local seafood products to customers across western Canada.

Sonia’s come a long way to her position as C0-founder & Managing Director of Skipper Otto. She didn’t always have such an interest in fish. As a child, she simply wouldn’t eat them. “With my Austrian heritage, good fish was just not part of our family diet,” she explained. “And then I married a fisherman!”

Skipper Otto’s CSF creates a direct connection between local fishermen and consumers with the joint goals of protecting ocean resources and improving the local food system. CSF members buy in before the season and receive a share of premium, wild, local, and sustainably caught seafood. Members have boat-to-fork transparency, knowing who caught their fish, when, where and how.

The CSF model ensures that independent, small-scale harvesters can continue to fish using the low impact practices they learned from their parents and grandparents, while remaining in an industry that is rapidly becoming dominated by big business and aquaculture.

As a participant at the recent Social Venture Institute in Vancouver, Sonia Strobel is a clear beacon of commitment to the cause of sustainable fisheries. But it’s not easy being a small fish in the big, competitive pond of commercial fisheries.

Currently, a handful of multi-national corporations dominate the industry, including quotas, licenses, boats, offloading, processing facilities and the whole vertically integrated supply chain. The industry has moved away from local supply toward a global model, and Sonia is working to carve out some space for independent food producers to harvest, process, and sell their fish locally. “We believe that sustainable fishing is intrinsically connected to ocean conservation.”

Sonia’s latest project is an ambitious plan to open a processing plant for Skipper Otto’s and for other small-scale independent fishermen, providing them with a guaranteed place to cut and preserve their catch. There are a lot of federal requirements in such a complex endeavour—particularly because processing has come to be geared for large, processors and offshore markets.

Besides the daunting operational aspects of building and opening a processing plant, Sonia describes her greatest challenge right now as managing growth while preserving their values. They currently have no investors, because they want to maintain control over their values for what they do. “There’s a huge demand for us to grow, but we’re struggling with how to do that in a way that preserves our values. We’re nervous that the leap into rapid growth may pull us away from our values and vision.”

When asked to give us a one-sentence message to the next generation Sonia simply said: “Find a problem, find something in the world you care about that’s broken, and fix it.”

When asked about her vision, Sonia describes a world where people would be purchasing fish from local fishermen again. “They would know where it came from, who caught their fish and that it was all done sustainably, ethically, and without exploiting anyone. And fishermen would make a living wage.”

Sustainable oceans. Living wages. And a healthy, growing business. Sonia and her colleagues at Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery are demonstrating that a triple bottom line is an achievable aspiration.

Join us for the 21st anniversary of Social Venture Institute Hollyhock on Cortes Island, September 14 – 18, 2016. Apply to attend here.

This article was originally posted on Junxion, a proud, long-time sponsor of Social Venture Institute Hollyhock.

Colin MansellEat Local