10 Questions with Fjord Fish Market's Jim Thistle

April Guilbault

Oh so many fish in da sea! And that’s only the beginning....what kind of fish do you want to prepare? Do you know how to prepare it? Oh, yeah, and where should you go to get this fish, short of heading out into open waters yourself? And wait, and here’s the $100,000 question: is the fish you are buying everything it says it is? Good grief. It’s almost easier dating and looking for *those* fish in the sea. Well, fear not, CTBites sat down recently with one of the Big Fish out there, Jim Thistle of Fjord Fish Market, and he helped guide us through seemingly murky waters...

Fjord Fish Market (formerly Fjord Fisheries) was acquired by Jim and neighbor/business partner Mark Scozzafava, in December 2012. Jim hopes that customers will view Fjord not only as a beacon for responsibly-sourced seafood, but a neighborhood establishment that works hard to educate and treat customers to the individual service, quality, and craftsmanship that they deserve and are seeking.

Q: You took over ownership at Fjord Fish Market several years ago. What was it about the seafood business that appealed to you? 

A: I was sitting at a desk 12 hours a day staring at spreadsheets and thinking that this was not the way to spend those 12 hours (laughs). Also, having grown up in Madison, CT, I’ve loved food and seafood in particular, all of my life. I began looking at the seafood industry and seeing that retailers were doing such a bad job bringing good seafood to market.  The more we looked at the industry, the more we realized that there was some great fish out there and admirable people doing great things in the world of seafood.  Unfortunately, none of the good seafood was making its way to the retail market. The retail seafood departments seemed dominated by low quality product coated with thick layers of clever marketing.  I (we) saw an opportunity to jump in and change what’s on the market, so I jumped and it’s been 3 1/2 years doing this now...these are *much* better 12 hour days (big smile)! 

Q: What industry problems/challenges did you immediately recognize? 

A: Well, the U.S. has poor standards about what comes into the country. Take farm raised shrimp from Thailand for example, there is effectively no meaningful oversight by the local government and a high percentage routinely test positive for banned antibiotics when they hit the U.S. shores. It just seems shocking that the U.S. allows it to be sold here. At Fjord, we’ve eliminated farm-raised shrimp from our cases completely as we just can’t get comfortable with the supply chain right now. We carry only two types of farm-raised salmon: Ora-King and Hidden Fjord. In our opinion, these are the top two aquaculture practices in the world in terms of quality and commitment to sustainable aquaculture.  No one around here was selling this kind of salmon, but now we are!

Q: Define “responsibly-sourced” seafood. 

A: Responsibly sourced is a term that is being more widely used these days and often that means different things to different people. At Fjord, it means fish that is free from antibiotics, added colors, not genetically altered and comes from a supply chain that we can trust. We’re partnering with aquacultural practices that have stringent oversight and high levels of transparency. We want to align our company with transparency issues and feel strongly about standing up to that test.

Q: Why is responsibly-sourced seafood important? 

A: Simply put, it’s ultimately better for the consumer and the planet. There is so much information and misinformation out there about fish for the average consumer to digest. We want to offer a product that the consumer can trust without having to do tons of research. 

Q: On the “Wild-Side,” what makes your fish different?

A: We’re finicky fishmongers and take pride in sourcing the best wild fish possible. We have long established relationships in the industry and are always willing to pay a little bit more to ensure we’re getting the best fish that the vendor/boat has that day.  It’s a difference you not only see when you look at the quality of the fish in our cases-- but one you can taste, too.

Q: Talk to us about seafood labeling practices.

A: Right now there is lots of consumer pressure for increased labeling as well as industry suppression of accurate labeling. There is mislabeling and charging of premiums for products that just aren’t the quality they say they are.  Bait and switch, so to speak. At Fjord, we trust our supply chain, so it’s easy for us to label and we have the opportunity to increase transparency. We even have maps on our labels showing consumers where the fish has come from! We hope that the industry as a whole is headed towards greater regulations.

Q: Is there anything else we should know about Fjord?

A: All the fish in our store is brought in whole and filleted in the store-you can see it happening from bluefish and tuna to snapper and branzino! We are fishmongers and we enjoy bringing the craft back to fish preparation and service. 

Q: What can we be on the lookout for at Fjord?

A: Try our take-out Hawaiian street food, Poke, which is cubed raw fish (tuna, salmon, shrimp), rice, pickled cucumbers, seaweed salad, and mango with a spicy soy/mayo sauce. Also, our catered clambakes are fun to do and people love them. 

Q: What fish would you recommend someone try? 

A: Skate wing. It’s a local fish with great texture, taste, and versatility. We will clean it for you and it’s easy to use and experiment with. We even have a “recipe wall” in the store. Our staff is super knowledgeable and can steer you in a delicious direction, for sure.

Q: With holiday season coming up, what do you offer to make gatherings and parties special?

A: Our seafood platters are always a hit. We have a great Poached Salmon platter and a Wild Seafood platter with shrimp, lobster meat, Maine crab claws, and Maryland lump crabmeat-both are bestsellers. We also have Smoked Salmon Tartar, Smoked Fish Dip (our signature dip) and, of course, Shrimp Cocktail. All are the highest quality and artfully arranged-sure to be a hit! 

One last note: Be on the lookout for their new website, which is coming soon and it’s never too early to order platters for the upcoming holidays!