Boat Loads of Knowledge About the Sustainable Food Market

Hana Nelson is bridging the gap that she found between agriculture and sustainable fishery

The local food movement has exploded in Nova Scotia over the past decade. More than ever, farmers are bringing sustainably sourced product directly to markets and meeting a need in the agricultural industry.

In 2014, a glaring space in the food market was evident to Hana Nelson. She observed consumers having trouble finding access to fresh, sustainable seafood. She decided to do something about it.

Nelson, having studied in France and Norway, held a Master’s Degree in Agroecology and a global perspective on food and food systems. While gaining valuable experience working within the Department of Agriculture in Nova Scotia, she developed a particular interest in aquaculture, a relatively new industry with opportunities for those with the knowledge and skills.

The opportunity was called ‘Afishionado Fishmongers’ by Nelson in 2014 when the company opened its doors, providing fresh and fresh-frozen sustainable seafood. The clever play on words describes her passion, knowledge, and enthusiasm for all things fish.

Today, Nelson remains one of Halifax's few independent fishmongers, though her services have expanded well beyond the immediate community. Through weekly subscription services, Nelson’s products are shipped throughout Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Afishionado is a certified Ocean Wise® seafood partner, meaning all products are caught responsibly, acquired with a fair exchange between fish catchers and buyers, and are sustainable in their impact on fish stocks, species and the environment.

“When you focus, as we do, on the sustainability and seasonality of product, you need to plan ahead,” says Nelson, who also makes it a point to ensure the buyers she works with understand the seasonality of fish.

“When dealing with fruits and vegetables, we focus on when they’re in season,” she says. “We shouldn’t be able to fish all the time, so I have grown to also focus on frozen value trade, buying larger quantities of fresh fish when it’s in season and freezing some of it for off-season demand,” says Nelson.

As a new and growing business, managing cash flow and having the right financing is a must.

Nelson was introduced to CUA through another local entrepreneur, and she quickly determined they were the perfect fit for her banking needs.

“I met with Bryan Richard, an enthusiastic account officer at CUA who understands the food marketplace. CUA knows what’s happening here because they operate here. They were completely empathetic and could see what I wanted to do for the community,” says Nelson.

Nelson didn’t apply for a loan right away, but she knew she could count on CUA to help her during those in-season buying periods.

Eventually, the demand for freezer space became necessary for Nelson and she began to explore a processing plant with infrastructure and housing. She knew she’d need a loan, and CUA was able to make it happen with the support of the Nova Scotia’s Small Business Loan Guarantee Program. The Program enables CUA to provide financing to businesses that have a strong business case but who may not fit inside a typical black-and-white box to get to “yes”. The government-backed program opens the door for small business owners who, in addition to financing, benefit from personalized services and advice.

As the demand for Afishionado’s services grew, so too did their need for additional chillers, refrigeration space, and containers. Time after time, Nelson returned to CUA, who helped her stay focused on what mattered: sustainable fresh and fresh-frozen seafood.

“When fish are spawning, we need to protect the reproductive cycle,” Nelson says. “Frozen seafood produces less waste and is of a higher quality. I like being able to do that, offering customers quality, sustainable products,” she adds.

Nelson admits there is room for improvement when it comes to educating consumers about the topic of fresh-frozen, sustainable fish. She often welcomes new customers to her warehouse market on Isleville Street, who are expecting to take home sustainable and fresh product. While there are always fresh offerings, what’s in the freezer isn’t always what’s on ice.

“In the middle of winter or during hurricane season, when fishing is limited, I always take the time to talk to clients,” she says. “Once we explain how our business works, they’re happy to learn.” Nelson and her team also make literature readily available, providing an overview of their subscription program, about the types of fish available each week, and how to thaw seafood properly.

“We’re making an impact on the community,” Nelson says, “and it wouldn’t have been possible without the financing, advice, and support of CUA.”

One client and one conversation at a time, Nelson’s Afishionado Fishmongers has a growing “school” of transparent, sustainable seafood fans in the region. Learn more by visiting

The above article was featured in The Coast on October 25, 2018. 

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