Patty Mann is the Fresh Seafood Sales Manager with Icicle Seafoods. She has spent her entire life in the seafood industry, from working on long-line boats as a teen to running a fresh seafood company at 23. She has worked side-by-side with various producers, distributors, retailers and restaurants, handling both farmed and wild seafood. Ms. Mann has also traveled both domestically and internationally, visiting fish farms, fishing operations, seafood-processing plants, restauranteurs and retailers around the world. She enjoys navigating the complex challenges of the seafood industry as well as the amazing people involved in it.
Sea Delight: Sustainable seafood is an industry for the future. Maintaining a healthy ocean with responsibly sourced fish is simply good business. What attracted you to the seafood business in the first place?
Patty Mann: I started in the fish business at 18 when I thought it would be fun to work on fishing boats. (Some people go to Hollywood, but I thought the wide-open sea was a lot more exciting.) I spent five years working on head boats (aka party boats) and eventually moved to longline commercial boats.
This was in Barnegat Light, NJ. After the first cold snap, I decided that Florida might be a bit more welcoming. So I traveled to Key West where I became a deckhand on the Viking Starship, fishing Key West in the winter and Montauk in the summer.
After 2 years, I “graduated” to commercial boats longline fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. I spent another couple of years fishing the Gulf and ended up in Cape Canaveral where I was hired to oversee the seafood sales of a 21-boat, multi-faceted fishing company named Beeline Seafoods.
At 23, I attended Florida Atlantic University for a degree in International Business but quickly found my way back to the fishing industry where I applied that knowledge. At that point, I was hooked.
SD: The seafood industry is a significant contributor to the world’s growing need for healthy sustainable food. Why is sustainability important to you?
PM: From the first time I stepped on a boat, I’ve been concerned about the environment and the impact fishing has on our amazing seas. I also knew I would depend on the ocean for a living, so I had to do my part to preserve the environment.
I take my responsibility very seriously and understand how important it is to not only protect the resource but also determine the best way to feed a hungry world safe and healthy food. I’ve been a pescatarian (go ahead, Google it) since I started my fishing career in my teens, so I would say yes, I’m very committed.
SD: What are some of the projects you are currently working on that will enhance the future of the seafood industry?
PM: I don’t believe I could sleep at night if I didn’t represent fully sustainable fisheries. Fish farming continues to grow and I’ll promote any reasonable fish-farming venture I encounter. Working at Icicle Seafoods I get the unique opportunity to work for a producer of both farmed salmon (in Seattle) and the wild industry (in Alaska,) I fully believe in the sustainability of both fisheries.
It’s critically important for the U.S. population to understand that fish farming, even in national and local waters, is the way of the future and it can thrive in our waters without any negative impacts on the environment.
I frequently attend Global Aquaculture Association meetings to stay on top of any new developments in fish farming and have spent the last 16 years selling farmed salmon. On the wild side, I work with most of the major species out of Alaska, which is the only state with a mandate for sustainable seafood written into the State Constitution.
SD: The seafood industry is one of the most complex global systems in the world because it’s about feeding people. What has been your biggest challenge working in the industry in general and also addressing sustainable seafood?
PM: The biggest challenge we face as an industry is to put out a positive message, front and center. We spend so much time defending ourselves from negative press when we should be basking in the glory of an amazing industry that feeds the world healthy food.
Often when I mention to someone that I work in the seafood industry, it turns into an argument because they read somewhere that seafood is contaminated or farming is dangerous to the environment. We need to get more positive soundbites into the media to balance out the negative (and often unsubstantiated) messaging.
SD: The best leaders are lifelong learners. What have you learned most recently that has made an impact on your career?
PM: The one thing I’ve learned in this business is that you can’t stop learning. I don’t believe there’s a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new, due to the incredible diversity of seafood. I learn about cultures, currency, world trade, economies and science, just to name a few. The seafood industry is the greatest university in the world and it takes a sharp, omega-filled brain to comprehend even a small part of it.
SD: What advice would you give other women interested in a career in the seafood industry?
PM: Go for it! It’s an ever-growing, always-interesting industry that desperately needs more women. I look around the boardrooms and see nothing but opportunity, mostly due to the fact there are so few females occupying seats. But luckily the way has been paved for you so now is the perfect time for women to take their place in this diverse business.
My message to them: There are no better stewards of the world than women, which is why we need you in the seafood business. We quietly opened the door when the men weren’t looking, so come on in. The industry is waiting for you. Tell them Patty Mann sent you.