Friday, April 15, 2016

Congressional Seafood Gets New Digs

Visiting your seafood suppliers is very important to the process of procuring the best product.  Meeting the people, checking out the facilities and processes, and understanding the supply chain is key to demystifying the cloud of traceability.  So when Congressional Seafood, one of our long time wholesale suppliers, invited us to visit their brand new state-of-the-art warehouse, we jumped at the chance.
Renderings that greet you
 Located in Jessup, MD, Congressional serves a big portion of the Mid-Atlantic, including the D.C. metro area, with an emphasis on quality seafood that is both sustainable and traceable.  They have promoted these philosophies with efforts focused on paving the way for a more transparent supply chain, and are also major advocates for environmental programs such as the Oyster Recovery Project.  

When you first walk into their new facility, you are greeted with exposed brick and beautiful renditions of old school fish market scenes that evoke feelings of nostalgia for the once-open Fulton Fish Market, which has since been uprooted to a warehouse in the Bronx.  The paintings are beautifully done and give visitors the impression that they have just been transported a few hundred miles up the coast to some New Bedford maritime museum, where the history of the seafood industry is about to unfold right around the corner.

Instead, it is the future that greets them in the form of hairnets, boots, gloves, and slickers in a sterile changing room.  Before going onto the production floor, we changed into the industrial garb in order to protect the sanitation of the environment.  The duds aren't for our protection; they are for the protection of the integrity of the warehouse.

We entered the production floor and were greeted with a myriad of workers cleaning and putting fish away for the day.  Morning deliveries, including those headed to Jeff Black restaurants, had just gone out the door.  It was nice to see how clean the facility was, top to bottom.  Passing from room to room there was a sanitizing spray coming from the doorway entrances so that you couldn't track in any unwanted hitchhikers.

Each area of seafood is separated from the other.  There is a large state-of-the-art lobster tank filtering hundreds of gallons of "sea water" daily, though most of its inhabitants' stays last less than 48 hours.  There is a room just for tuna, where whole fish are broken down and graded to customers specifications.  There are walls of crabmeat, a shellfish room full with bi-valves of all kinds.  In the fin-fish room boxes sit quietly, concealing their delicious contents.  Upon opening, one is greeted with glistening, pristine fish gleaming as if at this facility it is Christmas.
Lobster tank
Two of the most impressive contraptions we saw were the giant ice machines and the catfish conveyor.  The ice machines' enormity surpasses all my expectations, producing giant mountains of ice to secure temperatures for hundreds of customers' deliveries daily.  I guess if you are going to deliver fresh fish, and take care of it properly, you're going to need a lot of ice.  The catfish conveyor is a filleting system consisting of fish cutters who hand-cut the invasive wild blue catfish as they come down one end of the conveyor and send the fillets and waste separately on two other conveyors, each reaching their proper destinations.  It was awesome to witness how much wild blue catfish Congressional helps take out of our local waters.  Even with this tremendous amount, there's still more work to be done.
The Ice House, there's two of them

We ended our tour with trips to the offices, where both buyers and sellers are closely situated to one another so that information is easily passed between departments.  There is an adequate kitchen set up for testing products, exotic and familiar alike, and an area where chefs and customers can be hosted and well fed.

 We thank the great people at Congressional for hosting us and opening the doors to their beautiful facility for us to get an idea of the hard work that goes into getting our properly chilled and immaculate fish to us.  We are proud to buy seafood from companies like Congressional, who are on the cutting edge of providing seafood in a traceable, safe and sustainable way.

Fresh scallops, Ocean City, MD

Grading tunas; part aesthetics, part science, all expertise


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