Bill Herzig has a passion for what he calls the “wonders of the sea.”
“I grew up near the coast. My father was a dentist but he also loved to fish. Many of the happiest days of my childhood were spent at the seashore” says Herzig. Today he’s the Senior Vice President of Purchasing and Supply Chain Innovation at Darden Restaurants which include the popular Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains.
“The seafood purchasing side came naturally to me and that goes hand-in-hand with supply chain sustainability.”
When he first arrived at Darden Restaurants 15 years ago, he found a company that already had a proven record as an industry leader in sustainability efforts. In the 1970s and early 1980s, then -president Joe Lee coordinated a team to collaborate with the United Nations on the Law of the Seas Treaty which was designed to protect the world’s oceans and marine life from overfishing.
“We have to make choices about the areas where we can have the broadest positive impact; areas where we are an industry leader and play a positive role.”
One of those areas was the Atlantic lobster fishery. Darden is the largest buyer of the lobster processed in New Brunswick (lobster which is caught in the Maritime provinces and Maine) and is a leading buyer of live lobster from the Northeastern United States and into Atlantic Canada.
“A number of years ago we saw challenges that were causing lobster fishermen a lot of hardship. It was clear that there was a lot more that needed to be done to understand the science of lobster and sustainability.”
Herzig and his longtime friend Charles Anastasia from Orion Seafoods International discussed some of the challenges they were seeing during a trip to Newfoundland. They also began discussions with then Minister of Fisheries Rick Doucet and the idea of the Atlantic Lobster Sustainability Foundation began to take shape.
As a founding partner, Darden Restaurants not only invested $200,000 in seed money to help establish the Atlantic Lobster Sustainability Foundation but members of their executive team have been made available to contribute to the Foundation’s work. It’s all part of the company’s overall commitment to sustainability which includes investing in similar work in other seafood sectors as well as progressive approaches to water and energy conservation.
“It’s a really principle-based company,” says Herzig. “If we engage in a supply chain that has challenges and we can do something positive to help with those challenges then we should.”
Herzig says the Atlantic Lobster Sustainability Foundation is headed in the right direction because it’s multi-stakeholder. Issues are seen through fishermen’s eyes, through government’s eyes, from the processor and market perspective. Then the choices about the investments the foundation makes are based on the broadest possible impact.
“In the early days Jan Spinney did a marvelous job and now we really appreciate that Rick Doucet is our Executive Director. He’s an advocate for the fishermen and for industry who also brings political stature and capability.”
“We all have a real passion for lobster fishermen, for the lobster industry. If you can sustain the species, you can sustain the fishermen’s livelihood and sustain the overall industry.”