Jordan Belveal fishing for rockfish in 2018. (Chelsey Ellis)

Longtime Vancouver Island fishing family hooks into local market over wholesale

Locally caught fish are scarce in fishing towns, an irony one Sointula family is working to change

The lingcod is almost as tall as the boy, a fifth-generation fisherman-in-training on B.C.’s coast. Dad will help haul in the catch, measure and bonk it, clip the gills and keep it chilled with the other fish until they offload at the dock. This squid-eating lingcod will go directly to a local who’s already paid a deposit and is waiting, filet knife ready.

It’s a new way of doing business for Jordan Belveal, a fourth-generation fisherman.

Instead of selling to wholesalers, who almost always export the catch, Belveal and his family are marketing their catch directly to consumers in a new community supported fishery venture called Island Wild Seafoods.

It could be an answer to the perpetual, “Why can’t I buy fresh, local fish?” question, repeated in fishing towns all over Vancouver Island.

The Belveal family, originally from Sointula who now live in Nanaimo, have been fishing for five generations. Captain Grandpa — a.k.a. Adrian Belveal — of the third generation, taught his three sons to fish, and recently returned from a halibut trip with two of his grandchildren, who have both taken up the rod.

The allure of fishing remains the same for Jordan — one of Captain Grandpa’s sons — as he introduces his young son to the reels, but the business model is evolving.

“So many people approach us looking to buy seafood, complaining that they just can’t find halibut, or lingcod or spot prawns or any of the fish we have on the coast, because it just gets exported instantly,” Belveal said.

He estimates 90 per cent of local fish is exported, and 80 per cent of the seafood British Columbians consume is imported. Some large ships spend months fishing off the coast, freezing and packing fish on board, delivering directly to overseas markets without ever touching land.

With each inquiry of where to buy fresh fish, the Belveals thought more about selling it direct. This year, they took the plunge. International markets are in a tailspin because of COVID-19, so it seemed like a perfect time to refocus local.

“We created what’s called a community-supported fishery, similar to community-supported agriculture. We created a following almost overnight. It’s been incredible the community support,” Belveal said.

Members pay a deposit at the beginning of the fishing season, and get a share of the catch each time Belveal’s boat comes in. Some pick up at the dock, and he also does home delivery. So far they have dedicated one boat to the venture, and are already selling the majority of its fish to members. Their goal is to market all their fish independently by next year.

“It’s a lot more rewarding to do, because we’re trying to do smaller trips that have higher quality. So we’re not catching as much per trip, but we’re we’re not selling to a middleman, so it’s a better deal for us and it’s a better deal for the consumers. And the fish they’re getting is way better quality than what they can get at the grocery store.”

READ MORE: Salmon babies in safe haven in north Vancouver Island before hitting open ocean

Island Wild Seafoods is not the first family-owned fishing company to make this change. Skipper Otto started direct sales in 2008 to support one fisherman, Otto Strobel, who is now retired. In its 12 years, Skipper Otto has grown to include 19 independent fishermen and families, with pick-up locations across western Canada and Ontario. Another outfit, Michelle Rose, sells direct to members in Sidney and Cowichan Bay.

With consumer-supported fisheries, fishermen know where their catch ends up and consumers can honestly trace where their fish came from — and sometimes get bonus pictures of the fishing trip. It also provides commercial licence owners the opportunity to make a living apart from global markets.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


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