Take a brand-new concept in fishing boats, along with an initiative to promote the ethical treatment and handling of wild fish at harvest – and you’ve got Blue North’s Humane Harvest cod fillets. Town & Country Markets became the first retail grocer in the United States to offer Humane Harvest line-caught Pacific cod in November 2017.
The Humane Harvest Initiative ™ - launched by Seattle-based Blue North in 2015, is guided by science-based studies that show significant quality and nutritional benefits are gained by the ethical treatment of fish at capture, and works to increase the recognition of fish “as sentient beings deserving of ethical treatment.” The initiative encourages harvesters to take all steps possible to “reduce stress, pain and fear from capture to processing.” Reducing those elements produces a food product that is higher in nutritional quality, has better flavor and taste, and a longer shelf life.
The initiative is guided by an advisory panel with experts in sustainable fisheries management and many other aspects of the business. It’s driven by both ethical intentions and scientific evidence.
Then there’s the boat. The F/V Blue North - completed in the fall of 2016, incorporates a “moon pool” than enables the crew to fish from INSIDE the boat, sparing themselves the usual exposure to the dangerous elements of the Alaska fishery – freezing temperatures, high winds and the risk of falling overboard during hauling. This innovative “green boat” was developed specifically for the Alaskan cod hook-and-line fishery, and its unique, low-impact operation puts it among the most environmentally friendly and technologically advanced fishing vessels in the world.
Once cod is individually caught through the Moon Pool using hook and line, a stunning table immobilizes the fish, putting the central nervous system to sleep prior to processing so it feels no stress or pain. The fish is then filleted and frozen at sea for optimal freshness.
“We believe that all sentient beings, including fish, deserve to be treated as humanely as possible,” said Michael Burns, cofounder and chairman of Blue North. “When we looked at potential partners to introduce this new product to consumers, we immediately thought of Town & Country Markets. My family and I have shopped for more than 30 years at our local Bainbridge Island Town & Country store.”
Because the fish is immediately frozen at sea, it retains its freshness longer, making its superior quality even more noticeable for consumers. Further, Pacific cod is recognized by leading nonprofit watchdog organizations as a sustainable seafood product, and Alaska-caught cod is noted as a “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List.
“We like to say that doing the right thing tastes better,” added Burns. “In the case of Humane Harvest line-caught pacific cod, it’s the most responsible, healthy, and humane choice to make and for us, nothing tastes better.”
Until being offered by Town & Country Markets’ stores, the produce was available on a limited basis only to restaurant groups.
Blue North, founded by two Bainbridge Island brothers a generation ago, bills itself as a “sustainable natural resources company designed for the 21st century. “ Specifically, it approaches old businesses – fishing, timber, agriculture, trading and boat building – with the intent to transform them into new and profitable enterprises through technology and craftsmanship. It is “dedicated to the environment as a steward of sustainability on land in and in the water,” is determined to provide good family-wage jobs and “believes that beauty truly matters.”
The company was founded by Michael and Pat Burns. Michael Burns started a small real estate development company on Bainbridge Island in the ‘90s. Pat Burns is vice-president of Blue North.