Bobby DeMasco runs Pierless Fish, North East’s largest seafood distributor and supplier to NYC’s dining food scene.
Back in March last year, when the pandemic first hit, Bobby DeMasco told the New York Times that: “I honestly felt like I’d been kicked off a cliff by a donkey”.
NYC’s dining food scene was one of the most vibrant in the world, with DeMasco delivering fish to the city’s tops chefs and restaurants such as Le Bernardin and Daniel.
Fast forward to today, North East’s largest seafood distributor is still picking up fish in New York and getting it out to the restaurants, with now many chefs pivoting to meal kits.
But the closure of the restaurants hasn’t been easy, said DeMasco, who has been in the seafood business since 1999. Pierless Fish sources many species of fish and runs its operations out of its facility in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.
“With all the getting open and closed hasn’t been fun. We’ve finally reopened again. That was big, the restaurants were coming back nicely. Even at 25 per-cent, it was noticeable. Then we got shut down for six-eight more weeks again. Then our “great” Governor opened the state up but closed the city,” he said.
DeMasco didn’t have many kind words for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s COVID policies regarding restaurant shutdowns. “They’ve never run their own business they don’t have to worry about employees and how you are going to keep them, it’s a whole different dynamic,” he said.
“(The restaurant shutdowns) made no sense, as the state was open at 50 per-cent but the city was closed. So that really affected a lot of sales. Home consumers will buy as much as they can, but there’s only so much they can buy. The restaurants make up a great deal of it. The overall business has been solid, especially as we do the home delivery. And we found out people do love their salmon,” he said.
Pierless Fish was acquired by Baldor Specialty Foods, one of the largest wholesale importers and distributors of fresh produce and specialty foods in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, last May.
“People got on board straight away, when everything switched in March. But here people thought that they would never get food again, so they were locking delivery dates a month out. They were so scared. So opening a new avenue as there were only a few people doing it. People jumped right on and didn’t think twice about it. The good thing is that if you do the right thing you get retention, we were fortunate. We are sitting at a very good retention rate, people who order once will order fresh fish every two weeks,” he said.
“You can pay USD 30 a dish for a restaurant salmon. People are starting to realise the value of what they are getting too. They are getting more for their buck. And get the product directly,” he added.
Before the pandemic, New York’s restaurants were doing well, with new ones were opening all the time.
“Not bust it was boom, then it happened. Some restaurants like Daniel were able to figure it out. They jumped to making meal kits. Some people were super creative. Others just closed,” said DeMasco.
“Salmon is a super New York thing. Steelhead is popular, smoked salmon is. Those things are the fundamentals of what happens. Salmon definitely drives the marketplace in New York, that’s for sure,” he said.
“My salmon supplier says that they’re getting hurt but the price is still the same. So freight to the USA before the pandemic was around 65 cents. Say for argument’s sake, if they still wanted USD 3.50 on their salmon, and they added 2 USD on it for freight, that’ll be almost a USD 6 dollar fish and people will not buy salmon at that price in quantity,” he said.
He added that customers will buy it but “it’ll be an expensive product”.
Dockside Marketing is his supplier, which sources Scottish, Norwegian, Faroe Island and Canadian salmon from companies like SalMar and Mowi.
“So you have to have the right price to move the product. Pretty much every supplier sells into the USA,” he added.
Hiddenfjord, the Faroese salmon farmer who suspended all air freight to transport goods over climate change in November, he wasn’t all too happy with.
“Hiddenfjord, I have a little less respect for as they have been boating their fish over. Who wants that older fish. The business is called the fresh fish business. By the time it gets here it’s like 8-9-10 days old. I can get older fish myself, I don’t need help,” he said.
DeMasco is not alone in his thinking. Hiddenfjord’s MD and owner Atli Gregersen has responded to this, in another article here. Gregersen told SB that he was not aware of the particular issues with this supplier, but said that: “We started on 13 days. We had several incidents in 20 days. And of course, there are true things with the quality issue. The one thing is the expected quality when you look at the date in the box, so people got irritated, they don’t like fish that is nine, ten, thirteen days old but if you look at the factual quality, the fish is in very good shape when it arrives in NY. I know, I have 100 per-cent confidence in that”.
On Chilean salmon farmers putting less fish into the water, he said that is “incredibly short-sighted”.
“Everybody does it as they are too scared. I knew that that was going to be the first reaction. We have to change our game plan, I hear you, But you have to remember, people are not going to eat less. And you are putting the risk at the opposite end of the spectrum, not having enough,” he said.
DeMasco wasn’t totally on board with land-based salmon, however.
“I’m not a huge fan of the taste. If you look at it, the message is farmed fish is bad. I then ask “really, why is it bad?”. The answers are pretty stupid. Everything you eat in life apart from wild fish is farmed raised. The vegetable, the meat are all farm-raised, Unless you shoot deer or pick wild berries. They don’t understand that there is responsible farming even in fish. And the one thing about ocean farming is we don’t need heat and water. Those closed systems that they are opening are going to need electricity to heat or cool the water, so you are going to make a carbon footprint,” he said.