Having your ducks in a row: Seafood Supply Chains

August 2023
From rural remote to dense and urban, the seafood we sell is shepherded along with critical control points prone to mishaps. Sounds complicated? Well it is.

Our company, Smokey Bay Seafood, has to cast its fishing line further than the sea to get live shellfish from the ocean bed to the dining table. From rural remote to dense and urban, the seafood we sell is shepherded along with critical control points prone to mishaps. Sounds complicated? Well it is. 

Picture in your mind’s eye a remote sand bar off the Coast of Vancouver Island, and a person with a rake and shovel sifting for clams or picking oysters on a foggy winter morning, or a crabber handling a winch on an aluminum skiff on choppy seas in Puget Sound.  Then imagine sitting at a table at the Hotel de l’Opera in Hanoi. Vietnam or Casa Carmela in Valencia, Spain, a bowl of steamed clams or some cracked crab claw placed in front of you. 

One might ask ‘how did it get here; how did I get here?’ but one rarely does.  Usually we are too hungry or occupied to think about the steps undertaken for the privilege of dining on seafood from our Pacific Coast. Personally I rather focus on the journey from the plate to my mouth.

A google search on the origin of the term ‘having one’s ducks in a row’ reveals a multitude of possible origins. From shipbuilding, to bowling alley, from Mother Nature to Carnivals, having one’s ducks in a row is a term that applies beyond these origins. Evidently having one’s ducks in a row means things have to line up in order to flow, to be right.

The first step in the seafood supply chain involves no fuel, no line, no fish, it is purely digital and legal.  Determining if the raw material, the fish or shellfish itself, is permitted for the purposes intended for.  I do not in this case mean IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated), something discussed in previous blog posts. Rather I mean is the stage the fish at in compliance for the next stage in the value chain.

For example in Washington State a Shellfish Harvester is not permitted to sell directly to an exporter, distributor, or retailer unless they are, as in Smokey Bay’s case, a licensed shellfish shipper or shellfish packer on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) interstate shellfish list.

Another example is Dungeness crab for export markets, no matter how fresh, how good, how alive and wholesome the crab is, it cannot be exported to China unless it is packed in a plant approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  While for countries such as Singapore, and Taiwan a State registered plant is sufficient.

The Ducks

Therefore, the first duck is to know your regulatory requirements. The source, logistics and customer can all be aligned but if it doesn’t meet the requirements of either the local or the export country then nothing can be done.

The second duck is the terms of sale and financing considerations. Where and when is the seafood and the money exchanging hands? This will depend on where you are situated in the value chain. For Smokey Bay it depends on what type of seafood – live, fresh or frozen, where it is going – USA, EU, UK, Asia, Canada.

For example live manila clams CIF Europe (Cost, insurance, freight) are prepaid 72 hours prior to shipping from Vancouver. Live crab is CIF Vietnam prepaid 72 hours prior to shipping. Fresh oyster meat to Toronto is different with a free on board (FOB) Vancouver payment in 21 days Live Dungeness crab is cost and freight to Los Angeles on a 7-day payment. And frozen Albacore Loins are FOB Vancouver payment 30 days.

For less than truckload shipments, LTL, no financing is generally needed, for truck loads or ocean containers a letter of credit, or an escrow account might be needed. Export development financing and insurance especially when shipment values are quarter of a million dollars or more. An amount easily hit with a 40 foot ocean container of Smokey Bay black cod, or frozen scallops on the half shell.

Once you determine the regulatory space, and terms of sale, the next step is the logistics process. Moving from the seafood packing plant to the buyer. Often the fish will be bought and sold one more time before getting to the wholesaler or retailer.

So the third duck is usually driving a truck, flying a plane or perched on ocean container cargo ship. For logistics the main considerations are departure schedules, cut off times, transit time, temperature control, and costs. You might also need to consider customs clearance. Whether to use air cargo or land transport is a decision based on a few more factors such as transit distance, quantity shipped, and the needs and capabilities of the customer. Ocean freight is used for frozen seafood, generally further afield and can be a technical and financial exercise to arrange.

The fourth duck is quality control and customer satisfaction. For Smokey Bay our customers are both producers and distributors. Quality control starts at harvest, and is again monitored and managed at the packing plant. Quality in paperwork and logistics is the surest way to avoid snags, along with the quality control at receiving.

Thankfully concepts of quality control have evolved from being an upstream endeavor. Traditionally preventive controls (HACCP) and quality management programs (QMP) were tracked up to the point your company was situated in the value chain and no further. For example, once the fish was sold down the line, it was thought of no more.

The final duck, considers the quality of the business we are selling the seafood too. If the customer is purchasing seafood from us to resell, then they themselves need to have proper cold storage equipment, and procedures in place to ensure quality and prevent spoilage. To have a quality product you need quality businesses supporting you up and down the line.
It’s a lot of ducks to line up, but with them lined up the seafood flows.


The Blue Culture Blog explores four main topics: 

Global seafood lifestyles, shaped by the different cultures and the environment, our products’ insights the story and characteristics behind every product item, technological leap – advances in seafood technologies and how they transform the future of businesses and the planet, and finally our industry knowledge, relates vital information drives that advances our economic enterprise worldwide.


Patrick M. Warren

The founder of Smokey Bay Seafood Group, which has been in continuous operation since 1998. In addition to having a post graduate education in geography and environmental planning, Pat has been involved in all types of fishery projects from hatchery, nursery, and shellfish grow out; Pacific oyster and manila clam farming, aquaculture, aquaculture feeds, fish feed, and algae production; collaborative purchasing with tribal and first nation communities; the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery, Alaskan king crab, wild salmon, geoduck, scallops and farmed specialty fish such as sable fish, sturgeon, arctic char. As well as ongoing export programs to Asia, Europe, and North America, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Spain, and UK.

During his 26 year career in the seafood industry Patrick also cultivated experience in land use planning and land based resources management. In addition to being a majority shareholder of Sebastian Stuart LLC, a 65,000 square-foot legacy dock and pier in Anacortes, Washington, and the founder of the Eldorado Square in the Central Kootenays, BC. He spent several years as Park Board Commissioner for the city of Vancouver, British Columbia ‘s in the late 90s at a time that saw significant decisions being made for its aquarium, golf courses, seawall, street trees, and community centers for the benefit of all generations.