Over the course of the last few decades, the commercial fishing industry has been reeling in mass success, with vessels that can go further, stay longer and catch more; however, the demand has taken a toll on the world’s oceans. It is estimated that 63 percent of global fish stocks are now overfished. As a major international importer and distributor of fresh and frozen seafood, Miami-based Seafarers Inc. is taking a stand to improve the health of oceans and fish populations.
Since the company was established in 1999, Seafarers has set a course to support sustainability and ensure the future livelihood for generations of fishermen. “We understand that fishermen have to go out there and battle the ocean and the weather, so they’re going to sell what they bring back and importers are going to buy it,” explains Willy Rosell Sr., chairman of Seafarers. “Our name is well-known and respected, because we pay our fishermen within 24 hours of landing –there’s no monkey business; they’ve become part of our family.”
The need for a global solution
But Rosell says it’s more than just making payments on time and building relationships, it’s also about looking to the future and the longevity of the fishing industry. “We’ve been in this business for a long time and we’re trying to do everything in our power, but there must be cooperation by everyone in the industry, including the government – not just the U.S. government, all governments from China to Vietnam and Mexico,” explains Rosell.
Today, the Seafarers brand distributes to wholesalers, food service companies and restaurant chains across 46 U.S. states and around the world. Rosell says the bar is higher now, more than ever.
“We distribute indirectly to large companies like Walmart through wholesale distributors, and directly to large restaurant chains, such as Landry’s Restaurants, and everyone is enforcing sustainability,” he reveals. “These large chains prefer to buy sustainably sourced products, if the U.S. doesn’t buy the product, another country will.”
“For example, there are species that have been prohibited in the U.S. for some time, but are being consumed in other countries,” adds Rosell. “The only way to a solution is global enforcement.”
Fresh catch, high quality
While Seafarer’s primary market is the U.S., the company also distributes to eastern Canada, the Caribbean Islands and portions of Latin America. “Our home base is Doral, Fla., just outside of Miami,” details Rosell. “About 60 percent of our business is on the East Coast, from New York City to parts of New England, but we also have purchasing and quality control operations in Mexico, Vietnam and Indonesia. Seafarers has the financial strength to enter most markets.”
When Rosell first started out, he developed close relationships with owners of long-line tuna vessels and Seafarers became known for high-quality fresh tuna. “Historically, we have focused on tuna, but in recent years we have expanded into grouper, snapper, swordfish, mahi-mahi and other fin fish,” he details. “We’re currently one of the largest red snapper importers in North America.”
Seafarers also carries octopus, squid, wahoo, kingfish, sea trout, salmon, hake and turbot, among 34 species, but no matter the fresh or frozen fish species, the quality of the product comes first. “On the processing and cleaning side we have quality control staff members on the line 100 percent of the time,” says Rosell. “They supervise and they have to write a daily quality report.” The company runs a sizable processing operation in Mexico, which Rosell’s son, Willy Rosell Jr., oversees.
“We’re renowned for our quality,” adds Rosell. “Our Seafarers brand is increasingly gaining a higher position in the premium foods market, because the products are so well-received by consumers. We deliver high-quality and great variety, because our goal is to be a one-stop shop.”
Carrying so many species means that at any given time, Seafarers has 2.5 million pounds or more of frozen seafood. “We’re outgrowing our plant here in Miami,” reveals Rosell. “Right now we have 20,000 square feet of refrigeration space and we just don’t fit here anymore. We’ve been designing a new state-of-the-art plant for about six months and we have received approval from the city to build.”
The new plant will include improved temperature controls and processing for nearly any species of fresh and frozen fish, as well as increased capacity and automated 40 degrees below zero freezers. “We’re also going to be one of the first plants in the U.S. to have an o-zone cleaning system, which kills 99.8 percent of all bacteria the fish may have and preserves freshness without the use of chemicals,” details Rosell.
An influential player
There’s no doubt, Seafarers is climbing to the top of the industry food chain and fast, which means the company also has great responsibility to lead by example. “We’re currently involved in three sustainability projects for snappers and groupers in the Gulf of Mexico and Suriname,” says Rosell. “We’re working to educate fishermen about sustainable methods.”
While Seafarers is doing everything in its power to combat overfishing, Rosell says there has to be a collective effort among everyone along the supply chain, including government involvement, in order to create a more sustainable industry. “Our oceans have been over fished for many years and there needs to be better, stricter criteria,” he details.
For 15 years, Seafarers Inc. has been an influential player in the global fishing market, supplying high-quality products backed by a commitment to preserve the industry for generations to come.