Finalist, Seafood Champion Awards for Innovation
Founder and President, North Atlantic and Bali Seafood International
Gerald (Jerry) Knecht is the president and founder of North Atlantic and founder of Bali Seafood International. Presently his responsibilities include developing and implementing strategic vision and growth for both companies. He is active in daily management, business model implementation, and business development. He is the majority stock holder and an industry veteran with 30 years of operating experience in many segments of the seafood industry.
Jerry began his career in the seafood business in 1981 as a fleet operator of five large New England groundfish trawlers. In order to add value to the company he integrated forward in 1984 and began to develop innovative ways of extending shelf life and selling whole fresh fish directly to supermarkets. As industry regulations began to mount and consumer trends changed the company once again integrated forward and began processing captive raw material from its own fleet. Innovation around increasing shelf life of both raw material and finished goods continued and the company was recognized nationally for these and other innovations.
For the past 10 years Jerry has been developing and implementing an end-to-end supply chain management, triple bottom line solution for small boat fishers in Indonesia. Together with equity and debt partners they are developing a business model with industry, government, and non-governmental organizations in the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago to help develop community based fisheries management, responsibly harvested fisheries, and to have social impact. The fundamental goal is to develop a sustainable supply in Indonesia to service both international and domestic markets requiring full traceability and managed sources, while addressing poverty alleviation, livelihood creation, and fisheries conservation.
Jerry Knecht founded U.S.-based seafood supplier North Atlantic, Inc. (NAI) in 1981 and subsidiary Bali Seafood International in Indonesia in 2009. Using his experience in the industry, Jerry set out through BSI to innovate a model that enables seafood companies to take direct responsibility for creating perpetual, integrated sustainability and social responsibility in small-scale fishing communities. Wanting to break from the traditional sustainability theories of change he saw falling short of lasting impact, and recognizing substantial opportunities for improvement in Indonesias’ complex fisheries systems, Jerry has been relentlessly pursuing his innovative vision of a multi-faceted, commercially sponsored, and community-based fishery management (CBFM) model in this geography over the past decade. The model reexamines how to leverage incentives to align seafood industry business interests with equitable fisher livelihoods. It is being coupled with infrastructure development and fishery support services to generate an ‘ecosystem’ of sustainability in the region.
How well does this nominee and his or her work demonstrate the qualities of the category?
Through impact investors, Jerry is building integrated fishery community centers in Indonesia (starting in Sumbawa) that bring processing and support services directly to small-scale communities, fundamentally changing how these supply chains currently operate. Rather than relying on aggregators with variable payment practices, fishers can choose to operate through BSI. By doing so, they receive direct access to cold storage and processing, increasing catch quality and thus value. BSI sets responsible fishing practices, including fisheries management strategies co-created with local government, as a condition of sale, but pays higher prices for the higher quality fish, so fishers are incentivized to adopt better practices. Through the centers’ finance and governance offices, education and technology centers, and gear shops, they will be directly empowered to do so. While seafood initiatives are often driven by NGOs or foundations, Jerry is innovating this approach to truly integrate sustainability with business, eliminating dependence on noncommercial funding.
In what ways has this nominee positively affected, or mitigated negative impacts of, the seafood industry?
Rather than tackling typical seafood sustainability challenges such as overfishing or gear impacts as discrete issues, Jerry is marrying behavior change in these areas with economic incentives to improve multiple aspects of the seafood industry simultaneously. Small-scale communities lack cold storage, meaning product can go days without proper handling. By building a mini-plant in the Sumbawa community, BSI aims to reduce the estimated 40-60% loss in product value fishers currently face. Recuperated value can enhance fisher livelihoods and ensure business viability. The new plants and associated support offices also create new jobs, with knock-on social benefits that could reach thousands. Through BSI’s ‘pay-for-grade’ system, fishers learn how to increase catch quality and earn higher prices, and BSI accesses better quality product. Along with this win-win system, BSI sets expectations for harvest practices, requiring only hook and line gear (no trawls/explosives), fisher participation in BSI’s electronic traceability systems, and management compliance.
In what way do you feel this nominee’s story could inspire others and communicate successes achieved in sustainable seafood?
For the past decade, Jerry has been navigating the vast cultural and political complexities of Indonesia to persevere in his vision of commercially driven sustainability. In proving the business, environmental, and social viability of his CBFM model, Jerry is paving the way for other companies to tackle paradigm-shifting improvements in their own settings. Though many partners have provided support, Jerry remains the central figure orchestrating its execution and thoroughly embodies what it means to be a sustainability champion–despite countless financial, political, and logistical obstacles. Whereas many other seafood companies that are relatively small or privately held, like NAI/BSI, often avoid deep sustainability engagement, citing cost or capacity burdens, Jerry has challenged this status quo and stepped up to center his entire business model around sustainability. Jerry’s story represents a unique, proactive, bottom-up approach showing how anyone in this industry has the power to take sustainability into their own hands.
How would the work serve as a replicable model for others who want to have a similar impact?
Small-scale fisheries have an outsized impact to the world’s seafood trade and to coastal livelihoods. Any company operating in, or sourcing from, an emerging economy can and should look to NAI/BSI as an example for how to reevaluate their operations and pursue a deeper level of environmental and social sustainability impact. Though Jerry has been applying the CBFM model to a Sumbawa- and Indonesia-specific context, the overall model principles of incentivizing behavior change (e.g., pay-for-grade system), integrating fisheries management with supply chain operations (e.g., management compliance as a condition of sale), providing ancillary services alongside processing infrastructure, and underscoring all efforts with traceability and transparency can be applied to numerous other case studies. While some other current efforts exist in seafood that utilize similar principles, NAI/BSI’s model is one of the rare few in which a commercial entity is fully owning and driving the change.