By Chris Adams

Ian Cole and Charlie Lambert were friends from their days at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and were starting careers in the fishing industry.

But every time they looked around, they were left confused.

Cole, for example, was a federal inspector on fishing boats, there to count and record each fish pulled from the water; it was part of the regulatory structure designed to avoid overfishing.

“I started asking questions,” he said. “Where is all this fish going? Why is it not available in local stores?”

That basic query got at a central conundrum in the worlds of fish catching and fish consuming: American fishermen often send their harvests overseas, while American consumers often eat imports.

That Cole and Lambert were living along the coast of Central California – home of Monterey and its famed Cannery Row – made it all the more ironic. But fish routinely were caught in U.S. waters, sent to Asia for processing (cheaper labor there) and sometimes sent back to the U.S. for consumption. Other fish were wild-caught or farm-raised in Asia and then sent to U.S. markets.

“We get irritated when fish get on airplanes,” Lambert said.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Cole and Lambert explained their idea: develop a “community supported fishery” – akin to CSAs that organic produce farms have long offered. In the case of Ocean2table, Cole and Lambert developed relationships with different commercial fishing vessels and then marketed their catch directly to customers.

It means that customers get fish pulled from the water that day – not last year. The operation started small, with the two cleaning fish in Cole’s backyard and packing and delivering themselves. They now have 5,000 customers and 50 pick-up locations. A full share costs $25 and will include about one or two pounds of fresh seafood each week.