The Catch Of The Day Turned Over To San Diego's Needy
May 23, 2013 10:34 a.m.
Todd Bluechel, Founder, Fish. Food. Feel Good.
Debbie Case, President/CEO, San Diego's Meals-on-Wheels
Midday Edition airs weekdays at noon on KPBS Radio
FUDGE: I'm Tom Fudge. You're listening to Midday Edition. Todd Bluechel is a San Diego sports fisherman. Not long ago, he hooked what he thought was a pretty good idea! When you catch too much, try to do some good with it. Sport fishermen in San Diego often board boats in groups and head off the coast for a day or sometimes longer. Some days the fishing is good, and they catch more than their limit. But what happens to the extra fish caught? Mr. Bluechel has found a way to turn that catch over to charity. He joins me now in studio to talk about his nonprofit which is called Fish. Food. Feel Good. Welcome Todd.
BLUECHEL: Good afternoon.
FUDGE: And joining me also in this conversation is Debbie Case, president and CEO of meals and wheels. Debbie, Thank you very much.
CASE: Thank you for having us.
FUDGE: Well Todd first of all when sport fishermen head out to sea, there's a limit on how much fish they can catch and bring back. Now why do you explain to us how that works and whats been happening with the excess the left over fish.
BLUECHEL: I'd be glad to. And real quickly Tom just to clarify, the extra fish that I collect are not from extra above and beyond their limit, they're only allowed to keep their limit it's for the fishermen that lets say go out on a 5-day boat, each fishermen is allowed to keep 20 fish per person per day. So if they go on a 5 day boat that’s 100 fish and we're talking good-sized tuna, when they come back to the port, sometimes they realize they don't want to keep all their fish. So I've created a seamless way for them to keep the fish they want but then I collect the extra fish.
FUDGE: So you're saying they're not catching more than their limit. They may just end up within the limit having more fish than they want.
BLUECHEL: That's exactly right.
FUDGE: Okay, I get it. Getting back to that excess fish, what’s been done with it in the past?
BLUECHEL: There's always been some generous fishermen who have taken it to some of the local charities. But there's really never been a singular transparent way for them to do something charitable with the fish. That's what I decided to create the charity for.
FUDGE: And you're a sport fishermen, and I guess you've seen the old system of doing things for a long time.
BLUECHEL: Yeah, I've been fishing since I was a kid. I used to work down on fishermen's landing when I was a kid, and it always bothered me so I thought I’d do something about it.
FUDGE: By the way what kind of fish are we talking about? Tuna?
BLUECHEL: Yes, absolutely, the pelagic’s - The Yellowfin, Yellowtail, Albacore, Bluefin, Wahoo.
FUDGE: All right. So what happens? Explain your system.
BLUECHEL: Let's say you go fishing on a 3-4 day boat. At the end of the trip the boats dock, they put all the fish into a cart, they push the fish onto the top of the dock and there's fish-processing companies on the docks. The fishermen can have those processing companies filet their fish. And then they take their fish home. So what happens then is if,like we were talking about earlier, if they only want to keep a certain amount of the fish, they can now say I'd like the rest of my fish to go to the charity.
FUDGE: Back in the old days, what happened with that the extra fish? Was it just thrown away?
BLUECHEL: Well, it varied. I guess the short answer is yes. It would be discarded in a variety of ways. But that's just the reality of what it was. And there was always a way to kind of get rid of it, but I wanted to really a user-friendly simple way for the fishermen to give it to charities like meals on wheels and some of the other charities here in San Diego.
FUDGE: But how exactly does it work at the dock? You've got all this extra fish, is it kept by the processing companies? Do they freeze it? What happens?
BLUECHEL: Yea, so let me finish that story, so when you roll up the fish and give it to processor, you have the fish that you want processed, but then the processor like Fisherman’s Processing, they'll collect the extra fish, they'll filet it, then they freeze it. Then when they've collected about 500 to 1,000 pounds worth of that fish they'll call me, I'll call whoever is next on rotation, whichever charity is next on rotation, then I'll have them come down and pick it up.
FUDGE: Ok well Debbie I guess that's where you come in. I have been told that meals on wheels has received about15,000 pounds of fish; is that correct?
CASE: It is correct, and it is wonderful. It not only saves us money so that we can continue to feed the seniors here in San Diego County, but it's just such an incredible source of nutrition for the seniors. It's remarkable.
FUDGE: And not to dwell on the process too much, but do you freeze it, do you keep it some place?
CASE: Well, what Todd basically said, it's blast-frozen. So when we get it, it is frozen. But the fish is very fresh. So usually a couple weeks old at best. And we use it right away. So we have four menu items that we've developed in-house that uses the fresh tuna for their meals, and they're lunch meals in fact. They're 4-grain salads, and if you've never had tuna fish made with fresh-caught tuna, you've never really had tuna fish.
FUDGE: So your customers get a whole fish that has the eyes and it looking at you, or is it just pieces of meat?
[ LAUGHTER ]
CASE: No, it is the filet. So we roast it off and use it in different ways in their meals. But the beauty of it, it's not canned. And so there's no sodium in it. And just the nutritional content of fresh fish is remarkable.
FUDGE: When you run meals on wheels or something like that, is there food that's difficult to keep? Perishable food for instance? Some people would look at fish and say that must be difficult for you to store and then use later.
CASE: What's interesting in the last four years, we've worked very closely with trying to to improve our menu items and using a farm to table approach and using products that are right here locally. And this is the first ocean to table, basically. The fish that's caught could stay blast frozen for a good six months. But we're using it within a week or ten days of it coming through. We're processing it into nutritious meals.
FUDGE: My guests are Todd Bluechel, who is founder of Fish. Food. Feel Good., and Debbie Case, president, CEO of Meals on Wheels. Todd, we spoke with Debbie a little bit about how much fish they use, give us an idea of the scope of this thing I mean how many fish go into your program? How many fish have you distributed?
BLUECHEL: Every year just seems to get bigger and bigger. I'm about -- this is about our third year doing this. Which is great, and I really appreciate you allowing us to come on your show today. Because the more fishermen that hear about this program, then they realize that they have now an opportunity to do something with the extra fish they may not want. The growth is exponential. And I've been receiving a lot of e-mails from people around America who come to San Diego because I believe not only are we America's finest city, but I believe we have the finest fishing fleet. So they come here to San Diego to fish, and they ask me why can't I replicate this in their hometown? That's kind of my goal in the next few years. In a couple years from now, I want to be feeding 1 million people a year.
FUDGE: Is this going to become your day job?
BLUECHEL: No, it's not my day job. I do this just to feel good. That's why I put it into the title. Maybe it will at some point. But it's not right now.
FUDGE: Debbie has told us that her organization Meals on Wheels has gotten 15,000 pounds of fish. How much is the total? Maybe you don't keep track of that. I'm just curious.
BLUECHEL: I do keep track. We monitor everything, we write invoices for all the fish that come in. It would be fair for me to say that we fed around 75,000 people in 2012.
FUDGE: In San Diego, who are some of your other customers? It’s not just Meals on Wheels.
BLUECHEL: Well, it's not customers just for clarification. It's people that we donate the fish to.
FUDGE: Fair enough.
BLUECHEL: I just needed to make that clarification because in the sport fishing industry, there is no exchange of money. I don't receive a penny for the fish, I don't charge the charities one penny for the fish. The charities in addition to meals wheels that I give fish to are Father Joe's, San Diego food bank, San Diego rescue mission, Samoa independent, and then a couple of battered women's shelters. They don't like to be named.
FUDGE: And Deb, are you essentially contributing the cost of preserving the fish and filleting the fish? Is that your contribution to this operation?
CASE: Well, we don't really contribute. We're just the recipients. So to receive this fish that you'd pay $23 a pound at the grocery store for, and we're getting it for free is such a benefit to us because now we're not having to go out and buy proteins for a certain amount of meals 15,000 meals. And that truly adds up.
FUDGE: We should mention we're talking about here is sports fishing, not commercial fishing. Now Todd sports fishing in the minds of some people can be a little bit controversial. They think that you're depleting the stocks of fish. How do you respond to that?
BLUECHEL: I'm actually glad you brought that up Tom because there is a very clear distinction. And it is the sport fishermen are very surgical when they go out to catch their quarry. They use just the hook line and sinker, whereas the commercial guys use large scale methods of collecting their fish, the trawling, the long lining, etc. When I first set up this program, I had a couple people ask me the same question you just did, is sport fishing in any way hurting the fish population? So I contacted the scientific communities. I contacted NOAA, the international tuna association, and I learned and I'm very happy and proud to say that us sport fishermen are taking less than 1% of all of those fish that I mentioned. So less than 1% of the pelagic fish are taken by sport fishermen. It's not the sport fishermen that are in any way at all hurting the fish populations.
FUDGE: And again those fish are tuna, what else?
BLUECHEL: Albacore, Yellowfin, Bluefin, yellowtail, and wahoo are pretty much the fish I collect.
FUDGE: Well Debbie we’re almost out of time, do you have any stories you can tell us, about some of your seniors receiving this fish and expressing their gratitude?
CASE: I do. One. It is that -- we have a hotline for our seniors, and we got a phone call that said I feel so special to get something like this, which is wonderful because we do want them to feel special. And we are having a fundraiser this year where we're going out on a sport fishing boat the Shogun, and fishermen's processing is going to process the fish for us. And we have spots for two more fishermen to go out in August, it’s a day and a half. You can join us and catch fish for charity. And you can go on our websites, Sycuan stepped up and is underwriting the cost of the boat for us to use. And so is ballast point yachts also underwrote some of it. But I think the clarity of this whole situation and this charity is Todd, as passionate as he is, is allergic to fish and can't eat it.
FUDGE: No way!
CASE: But he's given back to the community in a big heart, and he's one of our favorite partners.
FUDGE: And Todd you said you came to this with kind of a waste not, want not attitude. Was there more to it I mean why did you become so passionate about doing this?
BLUECHEL: I just really strongly believe that the best way -- I'm kind of selfish, I guess I should premise it with that. I'm selfish because I really want to live an active life and part of living an active life is feeling good. And I found through traveling all the countries that I've been to, the best way you can feel good is by giving selflessly to somebody else. I’m sure you’ve done some charitable work; it's just an amazing feeling when you're able to help someone in need. And this charity allows me to feel good.
FUDGE: And Todd Bluechel is founder of Fish. Food. Feel Good., which allows sport fishermen to give their excess fish to charity. Todd, thank you for coming in.
BLUECHEL: Thank you very much, Tom.
FUDGE: And Debbie, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels, thank you.
CASE: Thank you.