Northern Fish Products, Inc. in Tacoma, Wash., is the oldest seafood business operating in the Pacific Northwest.
Throughout its 102-year history, the company
has supplied fresh, quality fish and seafood
throughout the United States and abroad.
“Our business is constantly evolving,” said
Ross Swanes, vice president of Northern Fish
and the fifth generation to work in the business.
“What we did in the '40s, '50s and '60s is not
what we did in the '80s and '90s. And it’s not
what we do now.”
Among their modern practices, Northern Fish
has implemented measures to cut cross contam-
ination using ozone, as science and regulatory
requirements have changed over the years. In
addition, the company now finds itself in the sto-
rytelling business to satisfy consumers hungry for
both fish and information about how it’s sourced.
FROM HUMBLE ORIGINS
Northern Fish began in 1912 when Johannes
Swanes, a Norwegian immigrant, purchased the
business and its assets — a horse and wagon
— for fresh fish distribution. Now the company
has an 80-employee Tacoma facility, and crab
production plant in South Bend, Wash., as well as
various unloading facilities. During peak production, the company employees about 150 workers.
Today, the company offers nearly a thousand
different seafood items, including locally caught
fish and exotic seafood from around the
world. The business’s core products include
Pacific Northwest items, such as salmon,
halibut and crab. Imported products are
sourced based on customer demand.
Approximately 50 percent of the company’s product is distributed throughout the
Pacific Northwest, while the rest is shipped
nationally and internationally. Depending on
demand, about 10-20 percent of product is
Northern Fish’s Tacoma facility broke
ground in 1972, with additions being
made in 1991 and 2002. The Tacoma plant
houses secondary processing, portioning,
filleting and distribution operations, as well
as the company’s smoking division.
Swanes says one of the biggest shifts for
Northern Fish in the last 30 years is the switch
from direct store distribution to broadline food-service programs. The company also distributes
product to independent specialty stores, as
well as to restaurants outside of the Pacific
Northwest through its Direct-to-Chef program,
which allows chefs to order fresh fish and have
it quickly delivered to their business.
Swanes says that the growing opportunity
for independent seafood markets also has
impacted the business. Northern Fish operates
multiple standalone seafood stores that work
with local fishermen.
“It’s been really successful for us,”
MAKING THE CUT
Each day at the Tacoma plant begins with a
morning production meeting, where the staff
checks product inventory and lays out the production schedule for the day.
“It’s a big puzzle every morning, but it all starts
with making your calls to our own operating com-
panies or our partners to see what’s available and
to see what’s coming,” Swanes says.
Scheduling can be a challenge because
Northern Fish processes a large amount of just-
in-time product that must be delivered fresh.
Northern Fish focuses on providing highly
By Lindsey Jahn, Associate Editor