How this founder is saving his home state’s fish­ing in­dus­try

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THE CUL­MI­NA­TION of Dun­can Berry’s life­long ro­mance with the sea is avail­able in more than 5,000 gro­cery stores around the coun­try. Fish­peo­ple Seafood, which em­ploys close to 40 work­ers in-sea­son, de­liv­ers for do­mes­tic con­sump­tion sus­tain­able seafood caught in Amer­i­can wa­ters by in­de­pen­dent fisher folk. Af­ter 20 years of build­ing fash­ion com­pa­nies, Berry re­turned to the Ore­gon coast where he was raised. There, he has reded­i­cated his life to the peo­ple and wildlife that make up “the last in­dus­try based on hunt­ing and gather­ing,” he says. “We have two mil­lion years’ worth of that tra­di­tion in our bones.”

Berry, the son of a nov­el­ist and a pho­tog­ra­pher, spent sum­mers as a deck­hand on his older brother’s salmon troller, Legacy I. By the time he was 16, he says, he was the youngest fish­ing boat cap­tain in the state, ply­ing the rough chop of the Columbia River. “It’s known as the grave­yard of the Pa­cific,” says Berry. “It’s a rough piece of art. It made me into a man early on.”

Berry ex­ulted in the pu­rity and sim­plic­ity of life on the wa­ter. “On shore, there are traf­fic jams and bills to pay,” he says. Afloat, there are “tide and wind and weather pat­terns. Gear that gets fouled. Whales un­der your boat.” But one day in 1971, Legacy I took on board an Ore­gon Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife of­fi­cial, who pre­dicted a bleak fu­ture. “He said, ‘In 10 years, you guys are all go­ing to be gone,’ ” re­calls Berry. “‘Fish stocks are dwin­dling. I’d find my­self an­other job.’ ”

Berry moved down to the Caribbean and spent a cou­ple of years sail­ing, and then earned a de­gree in de­sign and met­al­work­ing from Ev­er­green State Col­lege in Olympia, Wash­ing­ton. He started three busi­nesses in the fash­ion in­dus­try. The last—a Seat­tle-based organic cot­ton com­pany called Green­source—was a Patag­o­nia-like ven­ture that reached deep into the agri­cul­tural sup­ply chain.

In 2005, Berry, then 50, sold Green­source and re­turned with his wife to Cas­cade Head, on the cen­tral Ore­gon coast, where they’d met at age 15. Two years ear­lier, they’d launched a non­profit to cre­ate a 527-acre camp, farm, and wilder­ness area there.

In Ore­gon, Berry re­con­nected with the fish­ing peers of his youth. The gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial’s warn­ings had come true: They were “liv­ing in the red poverty zones of our coast­line,” Berry says. Much of the fish caught do­mes­ti­cally was be­ing shipped over­seas, of­ten for pro­cess­ing in Asia— some of which was then sold back to the U.S. “We were sell­ing logs, not fur­ni­ture,” says Berry, de­scrib­ing lo­cal fisher folk’s fail­ure to cap­ture full value for what they risked their lives to ob­tain.

In 2012, Berry co-founded the Port­land-based Fish­peo­ple Seafood with Kipp Baratoff, an ex­ec­u­tive versed in en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and ru­ral eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. The com­pany works with in­de­pen­dent fish­ers to source only sus­tain­able stock from the Arc­tic Cir­cle to coastal Cal­i­for­nia. In Toledo, Ore­gon, Fish­peo­ple built the first of what it ex­pects will be sev­eral pro­cess­ing plants where work­ers re­ceive a liv­ing wage and health in­sur­ance—vir­tu­ally un­heard of in the in­dus­try.

Fish­peo­ple turns its catch into frozen soups, meal kits, and fresh and frozen filets, which are sold by Wal­mart, Whole Foods, Kroger, Costco, Safe­way, and other ma­jor gro­ceries and mass mer­chants. A cus­tomer can trace her din­ner back to the ves­sel in whose nets it met its des­tiny, thanks to a code that ap­pears on most Fish­peo­ple pack­ag­ing—a nod to con­sumers’ de­sire to know more about how their food is sourced. “My goal is to change our re­la­tion­ship with the sea,” says Berry.

The com­pany took un­spec­i­fied mil­lions from in­vestors. “Seafood has a huge ticket to en­try,” says Berry. “It has high cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­tures to get out on the ocean, and you have to pre­serve a prod­uct that spoils very rapidly. I re­al­ized there is no way I am go­ing to boot­strap this.”

Berry goes out on his sup­pli­ers’ boats as much as pos­si­ble, though these days he’s more apt to take pho­tos than to cast nets. And while he owns his own boat, he now prefers skin div­ing. He loves to swim with salmon, a fish he deeply ad­mires. “If you dropped most hu­mans into the en­vi­ron­ment that a salmon sur­vives, I don’t think they’d make it,” Berry says. “Along with the fisher folk them­selves, the fish are the he­roes of our story.” —LEIGH BUCHANAN


From top: A fish­ing boat that catches Pa­cific cod for Fish­peo­ple; an al­ba­core tuna; a wild­caught tuna and friend aboard the fish­ing ves­sel Vir­ginia Anne.

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