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Amy Grondin and Greg Friedrichs supply fresh fish to local restaurants as they pursue their dream of ownership.
Amy Grondin and Greg Friedrichs fish for salmon together off the coasts of Washington and Alaska. They’ve been in the industry for more than 20 years, working for others before starting their own business in 2009. Being a small producer in the seafood industry isn’t easy. Boats and gear are expensive. Harvest rates rise and fall markedly. Demanding physical labor is required to work in tight spaces for months at sea. Yet, Greg and Amy are passionate about salmon and their storied history. They take great care to fish for them sustainably, which is catching the attention of master chefs in Seattle.
Greg grew up on the ocean in South Africa surfing and sport fishing with his dad. The maritime lifestyle of adventure appealed to him in his 20s, but he didn’t see how he could make a living fishing. So, he came to the U.S. to study boat building in Maine. That’s where he met Amy. She was putting herself through college working at a local restaurant. The two friends went their separate ways after school, but the stars aligned years later, when they went to work on the same fishing boat in Alaska.
Greg and Amy worked together for years on tender boats where they bought fresh-caught salmon from fishermen at sea and hauled them to a processor. They learned different fishing techniques and types of gear. When it came time to start their own business they were certain of the course. Today, they troll for salmon using hooks and lines instead of a net – one hook, one fish – to avoid bi-catching other fish. Each salmon is landed on the boat individually or easily released if it’s too small. Trolling takes much more hand work and labor, but the care pays off in dividends by the quality of the fish.
Catching beautiful fish is one thing. Marketing is another. The couple started selling in the fresh fish market to buyers on the dock and through a small fishermen’s co-op. “Fresh” means the fish is sold within five days of the catch. To market beyond the fresh season and capture a premium price, they needed a boat that could freeze fish at sea. In 2017 they found it – the proud, FV Arminta, a 48 ft. wooden trolling vessel. Problem was, most lenders don’t like to loan on wooden boats. By experience, if fishermen get into financial trouble, maintenance is usually the first thing they cut.
“We’ve never had steady nine-to-five jobs,” says Amy. “Greg has always worked on boats in the off-season and I worked in restaurants. We might not look great on paper. But the people at Farm Credit understand blue-collar people like us have a different way of living. We’ve always worked hard and had good-paying jobs, just a lot of different ones. Farm Credit believed in us and made it possible to start our own business.”
When it comes to selling direct from “boat to chef,” Seattle is a prime market. This bustling city of 3.5 million people (not including tourists) is well known for its fine seafood and trendy restaurants. Here, master chefs are rock stars. Building relationships is essential for small producers who want to break into this market. You need to have a great product, tell a unique story and know your way around a commercial kitchen. Amy’s experience and contacts in the high-end restaurant business are paying off.
“Trust is the key to build lasting relationships,” she says. “Trust in your product, your brand and your guarantee. Having a lender that trusts you is invaluable too. Greg and I have a good, true story to tell about the sustainability of our fishery. When you’re passionate about what you do, and have the facts to back it up, people are inspired to do business with you.”