Legit Fish is Adding Validity to a Peculiar Part of the Seafood Industry
Certain entrepreneurs have an interest in a particular topic or industry that serves as an underlying theme to their career.
Taking a look at the career of Legit Fish Founder and CEO Michael Carroll, you will see he has been involved with the seafood industry for nearly 30 years. Carroll has worked as a commercial fisherman, in various marketing roles selling cod and haddock to grocery stores, and as a business consultant for seafood-companies.
And now, he is the founder of a seafood-focused tech startup in a city both catered to tech and seafood.
Legit Fish provides an administrative and tracking platform for seafood offloaders and independent fisherman to certify and market their fish as local. The software application replaces the current paper and Excel logistics systems with a cohesive cloud-based system that offers a scalable and unmatched level of traceability in the seafood industry.
The seafood offloader simply inputs the vessel, species, sizes, and relevant harvest information which is automatically transmitted to federal harvest records, inventory, sales, accounting etc. substantially reducing labor and transaction efficiencies. The application verifies the accuracy of the product information against the official government harvest record through proprietary API access and approves the printing of labels.
“Our software is built for traceability and logistics. If you lie on a federal harvest record, there are consequences, therefore we ground our product origin claims on this record. It’s up to us to make sure that the seafood distributors are honest, while still trying to be a business solution,” Carroll said. “With our current business partners, we can authenticate landings in Boston, New Bedford and Gloucester which represents an estimated 70% of the New England Groundfish Fishery and 30% of Atlantic Sea Scallops Fishery.”
In the seafood industry, there is a nationwide problem where certain types of fish are not being labeled correctly. In a huge fishing state like Massachusetts, this is a problem. In a study done by Oceana, 18% of seafood caught is mislabeled and nearly 50% of grocery stores aren’t confirming that the fish is correct. The Boston Globe also found over 150 restaurants in the Bay State have falsely labeled products.
A startup within a company solving a rather peculiar problem
In 2012, Carroll was appointed Vice President - Fisheries and Aquaculture at VERTEX where he would oversee all kinds of seafood-related businesses. His time in the position, combined with his experience in the industry, allowed him to see how seafood fraud is affecting the industry at large.
“We started working on this problem through VERTEX, but then realized it was a bigger undertaking than we expected,” Carroll said. “So, instead of scrapping the project and walking away, I looked into it and found out we could file a patent for the business process of verifying seafood product against the government harvest records .”
A year later, Carroll’s idea was spun-out of VERTEX and the company was founded under its first name BackTracker. However, at the time there was not much of a demand for a seafood tracking system, so he, as he puts it, “sat on it” and worked on other projects for VERTEX.
It wasn’t until 2015 that BackTracker received a grant which was used to help fund development of the platform. The company was partnered up with Corporate Systems Associates, who helped build out BackTracker’s platform.
The company’s mission started to resonate with local fisheries both Gloucester and in New Bedford where both groundfish (an industry term referring to seafood such as cod, haddock, i.e. “regular fish”) and scallop fishermen started to take note of what their platform can do.
In 2017, BackTracker received the chance to join the cohort at MassChallenge. While his team’s experience is primarily in technology, Carroll found himself the odd man out in the startup/tech space in Boston.
“I’m not a technologist. I’m a fisheries economist,” Carroll said with a chuckle. “MassChallenge was the first time I experienced what it is like being a tech company in this space and the energy in this city for technology and entrepreneurship is infectious.”
A new brand
This year, Carroll decided to make a change with his company: this time with the name.
“I liked the name BackTracker, but as the software started to grow, it didn’t reflect our business anymore,” he said. “Our new name, Legit Fish, reflects that. It also sounds less generic.”
Similar to many startups in the Boston tech scene, Legit Fish is solving a problem and helping improve an industry by adding technology. Seafood fraud is a much bigger issue than the average consumer realizes, and having a company like Legit Fish can help slow this problem down.
“We’ve created a third party verification system for an industry that needs it,” Carroll said. “It took an interesting angle and came in with a solution and an industry-friendly product. And this is an industry in need of disruption.”