By Richard Fabrizio
May 13, 2001
PORTSMOUTH — Henry Lovejoy is hooked on the seafood industry, but there was a time when something wasn't right about his work, so he cut his lines and went home.
It didn't take long for him to come back.
Lovejoy and his wife, Lisa, founded Ecofish.com two years ago. Today, the Strafford couple run the environmentally friendly fish wholesale and retail company from 78 Market St. in downtown Portsmouth. Ecofish markets seafood from sustainable fisheries and from environmentally sound aquaculture farms.
Its products are distributed in 23 states, including California, Nevada, Michigan and right here in Portsmouth.
"We're the only company we know of in the world doing this," Lovejoy said.
Finding different species and alternative harvesting methods are ongoing challenges for the seafood industry now 25 years into the impact of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act, which regulates commercial fishing.
Lovejoy, 36, had started Trade Axis International, a lobster trading and exporting company, after graduating from Boston University. His company eventually merged with the world's largest lobster distributor, and had annual sales of $20 million.
Lisa Lovejoy, 37, worked with her husband at Trade Axis International before and after the merger. The Lovejoys were bothered by the relentless volume of lobstering despite the company's financial success.
"The more we got into the global lobster trade," he said, "the more we saw the effects of overfishing. Lisa and I always had a really strong interest in the environment and protecting it."
And so Lovejoy sold his interest in the company and they walked away.
He sought a new career and enrolled in a Harvard University graduate program. The Program for Global Leadership was held in Singapore, and it was there Lovejoy expected to incubate his new career. But his old one called again, and Ecofish was born.
"Ecofish's mission is to seek out fisheries that are real success stories," Lovejoy said. "Those harvested in a way that (they don't) damage the surrounding environment and to make those products available to consumers."
Lovejoy said Ecofish benefits from his past experiences in the traditional industry. "We're in a gray area between conservation and the seafood industry," he said. "We don't want to tell consumers what they shouldn't eat. We want to give them good, positive options."
Ecofish developed those options with help from scientists and conservationists. The company formed a Seafood Advisory Board that recommended sustainable harvesting. The board features diverse experts ranging from scientists to chefs. Lovejoy said the board also serves as a liaison between Ecofish and the marine conservation community.
"Our board's research is ongoing and our list will continuously evolve as time passes," he said.
Ecofish's products all come from hook-and-line fisheries, trap fisheries or aquaculture. They include the unusual to more traditional, such as Indonesian yellowfin tuna, rope-cultured blue mussels from Prince Edward Island, spiny lobster from South Africa, and rainbow trout, harvested in Nebraska at the oldest aquaculture industry in the country.
Ecofish is working to add regional products, such as Gulf of Maine shrimp.
"About 95 percent of Gulf of Maine shrimp are trawled," Lovejoy said, "and trawling can have some very negative impacts on the surrounding marine environment. The only shrimp we're going to feature are those from the trap industry."
Ecofish is also looking at farmed scallops or those harvested by divers as well as trap-caught tuna and crab.
Current customers include restaurants, caterers, natural health food stores, and home delivery from Maine to Georgia to California. Locally, Ecofish products are featured at Jumpin' Jay's Fish Cafe and Portsmouth Health Food store, both on Congress Street. Jumpin' Jay's features Ecofish's Alaskan white king salmon.
Lovejoy said the products are high quality and shipped overnight from where they were harvested directly to restaurants.
Ecofish is expanding offerings throughout the Midwest. Growth is fueled, in part, by distribution through its retail-case freezers, which bear the Ecofish name and company story. One is featured at Portsmouth Health Food.
Ecofish recently received a Chain of Custody Certification from the London-based Marine Stewardship Council. The council endorses sustainable fisheries and seeks to ensure retailers are selling MSC-certified species. According to the MSC, there are 34 certified businesses, which feature an MSC logo on their packages.
Lovejoy said Ecofish firmly believes the ultimate force for change is consumers. As such, the company has pledged to donate 25 percent of pretax profits to help organizations around the world involved in projects to better understand and preserve marine resources and biodiversity.
"We see ourselves developing along the lines of Tom's of Maine, Ben & Jerry's and Stoneyfield Yogurt," Lovejoy said.
Ecofish's products are 10 to 20 percent higher than average market prices, but sales continue to grow. The company projects $2.5 million in sales for 2001, and believes the company will become profitable within the next 12 months.
The company is now working to attain funding from a group of 200 investors committed to providing equity for socially conscious companies. Lovejoy said investment would help Ecofish expand the husband-and-wife staff.
"We're blessed because we work really well together," he said. "But, we're very much in need of reinforcements. The market has demonstrated a need for our products."
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