Pictured: Eric Hodge on his boat in the waters off Oxnard. Photo submitted.
by Kimberly Rivers
The pandemic has changed the game for enterprises big and small across the world, and business owners everywhere are trying to adapt. One local fisherman has found a niche to keep his business open and staff employed.
Eric Hodge of Eric’s Fresh Fish typically sells wholesale to Los Angeles restaurants. Then COVID-19 showed up in the Central Coast, and demand from those restaurants plummeted, too.
“A lot of my market is gone,” he said. “The whole thing went down because of COVID, so I booted up my text list.” He had a list of retail customers from when he was focused on delivering fresh fish to people at their homes. It’s a lot of scheduling, packaging and delivering in Ventura, Ojai and even Santa Barbara. “I have almost 300 people on there now, delivering 70 orders every week and a half.”
For 18 years Hodge was a partner in an auto mechanic shop. About 10 years ago, he got back into commercial fishing. Today he operates two fishing boats, the Rough Draft and the Just Enough, that are launched from Oxnard, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. His haul, with a federal long-line permit, is mainly four species: vermillion rockfish, blackgill rockfish, ling cod and black cod.
“It’s fished on Monday, on Wednesday morning it’s packed and we are delivering 600 pounds of fish,” Hodge explained. He hasn’t had to lay anyone off, and in fact has promoted from within to meet the demand. “My daughters help as deckhands. Orders are growing every week.”
“It is super fresh, most people have never tasted fish like this because what you buy in the stores isn’t fresh,” said Hodge. He’s catching and selling about 4,000 pounds a month, about half of which is now sold direct and delivered to customers’ doorsteps. He uses a group text app to announce when the catches are in and to report what’s available and the price per pound. There’s a minimum order and a $5 delivery fee. The customer leaves a cooler with payment on the front porch; the fish is left in the cooler on ice.
The new model is a bit more complex than selling to restaurants. “It’s a lot of work to direct sell . . . more communication with customers.” He said that the business is really “two jobs. I have all my deckhands busy, not just on the boats, but then sorting and packing and delivering.”
Hodge’ sea-to-table solution has tapped into a demand for locally sourced food.
“It’s more rewarding too . . . I know that I am feeding people . . . It’s access to this amazing food here off the coast. I harvest it and give it to my own community.”
It’s also been a tremendous benefit to his employees, who continue to work and make a living.
“I haven’t had to lay anybody off, I’ve gotten busier and am employing more people now . . . 70 or 80 deliveries takes three or four of us driving, packing the morning.”
Hodge continued, “Who knows if there might be meat shortages . . . with the pork plants having to close down . . . We have this amazing food source in the water. I can offer it to people on a weekly basis. Food security is right here.”
Follow Eric Hodge at @ericsfreshfish on Instagram. For fish delivery inquiries, call or text 805-889-4824.