The Last Robot-Proof Job in America?
Fish: the final frontier in food delivery. At this point, you can get warm cookies, vodka, and locally grown rutabaga brought to your doorstep in minutes, but try getting a fresh red snapper. Until recently, if you could obtain the fish, it would likely have been pre-frozen and shipped in from overseas. (Such is the case with at least eighty-five per cent of the seafood consumed in this country, both from grocery stores and in restaurants.)
A new tech startup is aiming to remedy this situation. The company is based not in a Silicon Valley lab but inside the Fulton Fish Market, a two-hundred-year-old seafood wholesale market that was once situated in lower Manhattan and is now at Hunts Point, in the Bronx. It is the second-largest fish market in the world, after Tsukiji market, in Tokyo. Historically, it has served restaurants and retailers in the New York City area, operating at night so that chefs and fish-store owners can get there. The startup, called FultonFishMarket.com, allows customers in the rest of the country, both restaurants and individuals, to buy from the market, too, cutting out a chain of regional seafood dealers. The fish is shipped fresh, rather than frozen, thanks to an Amazon-esque warehousing-and-logistics system. Mike Spindler, the company’s C.E.O., said recently, “I can get a fish to Warren Buffett in Omaha, Nebraska, that’s as fresh as if he’d walked down to the pier and bought it that morning.”
There is one thing, however, that the sophisticated logistics system cannot do: pick out a fish. If Warren Buffett orders a red snapper, the company needs to insure that his fish is fresh, fairly priced, and actually an American red snapper—and not some other, day-old red fish that a vender is trying to pass off. (According to the ocean-conservation organization Oceana, more than twenty per cent of the seafood in restaurants and grocery stores in America is misidentified.) For this task, the company has enlisted one of the old-timers: Robert DiGregorio, a forty-seven-year veteran of the business, known in the marketplace as Bobby Tuna. DiGregorio, sixty-eight, is the author of “Tuna Grading and Evaluation,” an industry standby. He possesses a blend of discernment and arcane fish knowledge that, so far, computers have yet to replicate. Over the years, he said recently, “I’ve bought and sold literally millions of pounds of fish.”