ILWACO — A former Oregon family that’s relocated to Texas, but still craving a taste of the Pacific Northwest, can satisfy their taste with a few clicks. Meanwhile, a chef in Colorado can order albacore loin from the same company Wednesday and anticipate sashimi-grade cuts arriving in time for a Friday special. With the advent of Front Door Fish, top-quality, ultra-fresh seafood is delivered directly to doorsteps around the world.
Front Door Fish is operated out of Garibaldi, but the customer base is global.
“Garibaldi is where we do Front Door Fish out of because we have a processing plant and custom canning there,” sales and marketing manager Warren Howe said. The mission for their seafood business is simple: To deliver the freshest, highest-quality catch to customers’ front door. The product, which isn’t beholden to traditional processing or storage methods, is par with what only family and friends of fishermen could provide, according to Howe.
“Everybody wants the quality of fish we used to provide for our friends,” he said. Front Door Fish was started as a platform to ship certain products overnight anywhere in the country.
“We process to order,” Howe said.
“If you order cooked crab today, we cook it and FedEx it the next day and that’s kind of what it’s all about. It’s not really a store — more a way for us to share.”
Front Door Fish works exclusively with local fishermen to get the freshest product possible.
“We work with the fleet and buy directly from them,” Howe said.
“People in New York City can have ocean-trolled king salmon delivered to their door quicker than anywhere in Portland would have it.”
Front Door Fish is part of the Ilwaco Landing Fishermen, a fleet-integrated seafood wholesaler, that started with sport fishermen Mike Shirley and Scott Kastengren. Today, the wholesaler has grown to include more than 100 boats during certain seasons.
“As we get bigger, and have more facilities, bigger boats, and more obligation to the fishermen,” Howe said. In 2016, they acquired the Tillamook Bay Boathouse in Garibaldi to serve more fishermen and provide additional processing and offloading facilities for the growing fleet.
“A lot of our fishermen have dual state permits. Some species you can only land in the state with the permit. It’s really to support our Ilwaco fishermen who have some Oregon gear.”
The number of boats offloading at the Ilwaco or Garibaldi landing fluctuates with the fishing seasons.
“During crab season, we started with 31 vessels out of Ilwaco and about eight out of Garibaldi,” Howe said.
“That slows down as guys go off to fish for other things.” During tuna season, the numbers swell as fishermen from Canada, California and Hawaii converge.
“We’ll have well over 100 boats fishing for us,” Howe said.
It was a simple change and continually serves as a steady reminder.
“It was always traditionally called Ilwaco Landing,” Howe said. “But we changed it to Ilwaco Landing Fishermen… it all starts with the fishermen.” Howe said they support the fishermen by helping them with bait, ice or “anything they need to go fishing.” Ilwaco Landing is often the last land they touch before heading out to sea, and the first stop on the way back.
“When they come back we are the initial receivers in Oregon and Washington,” Howe said. “We write the official fish ticket for the state and it becomes an official product.”
As fresh landings continue to increase, Howe is planning to incorporate a way for customers to see specifically which boats are fishing for what, and when.
“We’ll start putting promotions out saying this particular vessel is going out on this day after this species,” Howe said. Orders will be taken as the fish is being caught.
“You can’t get any fresher even if you’re catching it yourself,” Howe said.
The impact of the fresh-seafood market is profound for Pacific County, and there’s a movement to bring top-shelf seafood to the masses.
“There’s such a difference between truly top-quality seafood and what the general public perceives,” Howe said.
“We really are losing top-shelf seafood. It’s going away. People are losing the taste for it because they’re not having the quality.” Maintaining a demand for seafood is important to the Pacific County economy.
“Fresh seafood is what keeps our coastal communities alive,” Howe said. Howe believes the fresh fish market will improve the image and overall sales for seafood.
“The coast is being strangled by big business and the quality of seafood is being left behind,” he said. Using sustainable methods and using extra steps in handling the product is important to ILF, whereas other wholesalers may be less scrupulous, Howe said.
“The frustration that started this whole thing is guys that took the extra effort, put time and money into their gear, did the right, sustainable methods to catch quality fish, were all offloading to a couple giant processors and they co-mingle the loads,” Howe said.
“There are professional fishermen and there are straight-up tweekers,” Howe said.
“The problem is, the good loads and the bad loads were getting combined together. … The whole spirit of quality fish, doing the right thing and sustainability were not being optimized. And the money wasn’t there for the fishermen. We look at ourselves as drawing the line in the sand for quality seafood. We believe you should know your source. We think you should be able to understand where every bit of your seafood came from. Quality seafood is simple. If it’s ever not simple, it’s bad. If you don’t know the guy who caught it or where it came from, then what do you know?”
Each order shipped from Front Door Fish includes the fishing vessel name. “It’s complete transparency and that’s what we’re all about,” Howe said. “It’s a business but it’s more of a campaign to spread quality seafood and keep it alive.”
Less than two months after their launch sales have been strong, particularly for crab.
“The majority of what’s going on right now is Dungeness crab,” Howe said. In February, they shipped their first order, which included albacore loins, oysters, smoked salmon and crab destined for a Super Bowl party on the ski slopes in Salt Lake City.
“They prepared it on slopes at 7,000 feet,” Howe said. “They said it was a ‘bucket list’ experience.” Six weeks later, the similar sentiments from satisfied customers haven’t stopped. Corporate and team-building events have been among their steadiest customers.
“It’s really flattering hearing the comments,” he said. Orders have come from Oregon, California, Washington, North Dakota, New Jersey, Texas and Alaska.
“There are no geographical boundaries and you get it the next day,” Howe said. As the seasons change, so will the available catch. In spring, Chinook salmon, rockfish and sablefish will be among the daily catch. Fresh halibut, sockeye, coho, sardines and tuna are anticipated in the summer.
The catch will vary with the seasons and success of the fishermen, making product availability and consistency hard to predict.
“I’ve seen boats sink and people die after I’ve sold the load and before they’ve got back in,” Howe said. Weather and mechanical issues can also hinder success, particularly for an business that banks on freshness and sustainable catch methods. “There’s a lot of challenges, it’s not always about easy.” The clock is the biggest competition, and time is the biggest expense.
“Most of the cost in overnight shipping,” Howe said, adding that they’ve been able to spare customers nearly 60 percent of retail shipping costs.
“We’ve done everything we can to keep those costs down. But as the old saying goes, ‘Cheap seafood is never good and good seafood is never cheap,’” Howe said.
Business overall is going “good” despite a disappointing Dungeness season, according to Ilwaco Landing owner Mike Shirley.
“It was a challenging crab season with the overwhelming numbers hitting the docks all at the same time,” he said.
“There was a shortage of totes, trucks — all those things.” Shirley said the weather also impacted much of the Dungeness season.
“There was snow in Portland, we couldn’t get bait for our boats. It just slowed everything down,” he said. Most of the fishermen have now turned their attention toward new seasons, such as black cod.
For more information or to place an order, visit www.ilwacolandingfishermen.com