Finalist, Seafood Champion Awards Leadership Category
Richard recognized that the biggest impediment to sustainable sourcing in the seafood supply chain was in the middle – that retailers and distributors had no idea where to source sustainable seafood. All the commitments in the world wouldn’t help a company follow through on its promises without an information bridge to help them. So, in 2008 he built FishChoice, a non-profit listing marketplace where producers could connect with buyers. That database today has more than 4,000 products and reaches more than 3,500 buyers. FishChoice has amplified the effectiveness of all of the ratings organizations by an order of magnitude. Through his business, good industry actors can make their commitments real and actionable.
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Rich was the first to see that the stuck point in the seafood supply chain was in the middle—that retailers and distributors had no idea where to source sustainable seafood. All the commitments in the world wouldn’t help a company execute on its promises. He knew a bridge was necessary to help them. So, leveraging his background in the food service industry, he left his position with FishWise in 2008 to build a non-profit listing marketplace so that producers could connect with buyers. That database today has more than 4,000 products and reaches more than 3,500 buyers. A key achievement in the evolution of his business was getting the major rating and certification bodies to share their information so that his list could become a one-stop-shop for any buyer using MSC, Seafood Watch, or another recommending body. He approached the problem not based on how non-profits think, but based on how businesses need information. As a result, he helped make the efforts of several organizations in the sector more effective and more actionable.
That initial database has evolved technologically over the years to become the central tracking dashboard for every chef enrolled in Monterey Bay Aquarium’s restaurant program, and the backbone of a new chef outreach initiative backed by Vulcan Philanthropies. He was instrumental in helping my company, Future of Fish, to persuade Vulcan of the potential for aggregating restaurant demand to incentivize fisheries reform. The seeds of that vision have been sown with the pilot project this summer and could be fully functional within a year.
In addition, he has leveraged his technology know-how and insight into user design to help build the sector. His site remains the most usable of all the fisheries databases. He is co-leading (and eventually will run) a project through the Conservation Alliance to create a website indexing all the active Fishery Improvement Projects in the space, a key effort to developing standards and benchmarks for that important work.
Finally, he was a founding member and is currently a Steering Committee member of the Conservation Alliance. He provides a calm, yet passionate presence to help reach consensus and build momentum for a collective impact agenda. His ability to disagree without alienating people, and to dig into the nuance of ideas to find something he respects about everyone’s position is a laudable and rare trait. His grace in the midst of a sector at times mired in its own in-fighting has been a shining example of how to collaborate.
What local and/or international partners does Richard Boot work with?
- Future of Fish
- Seafood Watch Program by Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Ocean Wise
- Blue Ocean Institute
- NOAA Fisheries’ FishWatch
- Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
- Safina Center
- Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)
- Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP)
- Fair Trade USA
How well does Richard Boot and his work demonstrate the qualities of the category?
Rich has contributed considerably to the collective vision of the field, as well as its innovation. But I went with Leadership because I believe that in addition to brilliant thinking, he has made an impact with his presence – by the person he has chosen to be as he innovates. Innovators are sometimes disconnected from reality or more focused on ideas than the people who get run over when implementing them. Rich brings an emotional intelligence and tenacity to his work that has shown him to be a true sector leader. His influence stretches far beyond the walls of his own company.
In what ways has Richard Boot positively affected, or mitigated negative impacts of, the seafood industry?
Rich’s web site has amplified the effectiveness of all of the ratings organizations by an order of magnitude. Through his business, good industry actors can make their commitments real and actionable. That is no small task, given the complexity of the sourcing process and the product itself.
In what way do you feel Richard Boot’s story could inspire others and communicate successes achieved in sustainable seafood?
Rich’s story illuminates the role of technology and market facilitation tools to unleash the true potential of the responsible seafood movement. The sector has a long way to go to develop both of these approaches, which will drive change even further and faster.
How would Richard Boot’s work serve as a replicable model for others who want to have a similar impact?
The lesson of Rich’s story is clear: Stop thinking like a an advocacy organization. Think like a business. The sector is littered with NGOs who want business to adopt purchasing recommendations that aren’t even packaged with the language or the speed in which industry does business. Rich shows that we need more “translators” like him to make the reform more effective.