Siren Fish Co. Champions Sustainable, Transparent & Delicious Seafood

A conversation with Anna Barr Larsen

Anna Barr Larsen is a fishmonger and founder of Siren Fish Co., a community supported fishery providing sustainably caught seafood to the San Francisco Bay Area. Larsen attended the first Eat Retreat in 2011, sourcing local seafood including oysters, bay scallops and halibut for crudo. At the 2014 event in Anderson Valley, California, Larsen demonstrated her favorite method for curing wild Pacific salmon.

How did Siren Fish Co. get started?

I was working as the quality control manager at North Coast Fisheries when I attended the first Eat Retreat. I left Eat Retreat with a strong desire to fix the problems I observed with fishing and the seafood supply chain. I didn’t know what exactly, but I was so invigorated by the weekend experience that I just knew that I had to do something. A couple of months later Bruce Cole, whom I met at Eat Retreat, sent me an article about the Community Supported Fishery (CSF) that Google started for its employees. I read that article and immediately felt like I could start something like that. With a lot of help from Bruce and the Eat Retreat alumni network, Siren was up and running two months later.

What are you working on now?

We are really excited to be launching a frozen seafood line that lets buyers know exactly what they are eating and how it was caught. The packaging calls out the catch vessel, catch method and species of fish inside. The fish is frozen within 48 hours of being caught and we provide specific thawing instructions. Frozen seafood has gotten a bad reputation, but when you freeze fresh seafood properly and thaw it properly immediately before you eat it, it’s delicious and comparable to freshly-caught seafood. It’s certainly better than anything you can buy at your average seafood counter. The second phase of our project is to help other CSF’s package and distribute their fish. We believe that the fish you buy in your grocery store should come from small scale fishermen in your area. There are CSF’s near almost every major coastal city and we want to help them go to market. If we create a strong and identifiable demand for line caught local fish, more fishers will choose small-scale methods.

If we create a strong and identifiable demand for line caught local fish, more fishers will choose small-scale methods.

Before you were fishmonger, you were a professional opera singer (hence the name Siren). Any similarities between the two professions?

To be a decent singer you have to make peace with embarrassment and criticism. You have to invite them in for tea and even learn to seek them out. That sort of repeated exposure to the worst case scenario tends to make you fearless, and in the process you learn to be very flexible. I’m not talking about the kind of fearlessness that leads to base jumping. I’m talking about the kind that allows you to make an ass of yourself in front of a huge crowd and know that you will survive it and even thrive because of it. Being unafraid of an audience and being flexible have been very helpful in running a business dependent on harvesting wild product. Most of the time, my buying plans change three times before everything is finalized. Storms come in, fishers get flaky, and processors make big mistakes. I might swear and stomp my feet when these things happen, but I always know that I will figure something out and that a little chaos won’t kill me or my business. Musicians also go over their mistakes again and again, rehashing them to figure out a new path around them. Every time something goes terribly wrong in fishmonger-land, I try to figure out a way to exclude that particular error from the process.

What’s the latest and greatest dish you cooked at home?

I am so into tomato confit right now. I suppose it’s my way of hanging on to that last little bit of summer. I have been making big batches and using them in everything from a quick sauce for seared King salmon to quinoa stuffing for delicata squash. I’m also knee-deep in my annual delicata binge, so those little beauties are also a part of nearly every meal.