How did your company get started? What is the story behind the name “Ducktrap”?
In 1978, an enterprising young man named Des Fitzgerald started Ducktrap as a trout farming operation. After graduating from college, Des was interested in aquaculture so he secured suitable land in Lincolnville, Maine and established a fishery. The land was on the Ducktrap and Kendall Brook Rivers, hence the company’s name, “Ducktrap River of Maine”. Des’ first foray into the fish business involved a lot of trial and error and didn’t go too well. Forest animals routinely wreaked havoc on the farm and equipment, tearing nets and making quite a mess. Des persevered through this trial and error period and saw light at end of tunnel with the idea of smoking fish and creating a value added item. Des’ little fishery quickly evolved into a smoking operation.
Des started out with trout smoking, using an old wood burning stove buried under the ground in a small hut, which evolved into smoking salmon and other species. Had he not persevered through the initial phase, Ducktrap might not have come into being. Thankfully, he did, and trout and salmon smoking took off.
Ducktrap’s current state of the art facility opened in 1991, a few miles away from the original site. The facility has 150 employees and smokes several different species of fish, including Rainbow trout, wild mackerel and a variety of shellfish, along with Atlantic and Wild Sockeye salmon. The superb quality standards established in 1978 are the same standards Ducktrap holds sacred today. Keeping with that, we built our previous facility in the 1980s and our current facility in 1991, with a perfect melding of traditional smoking techniques, custom brining recipes, state of the art kilns and technology. Maintaining the quality and integrity of our product is of paramount concern and is the core of our culture at Ducktrap.
What makes your products unique?
Ducktrap is unique thanks to our story, culture of premium quality, and over 35 years on the Maine Coast. Several employees have been with Ducktrap for over 25 years, which says a lot about the type of company we’ve built. We have a quality and culture that draws quality people.
The Maine Coast is also a great place to be. It has fresh, clean air and our facility is only a few miles from the ocean. Our four smoking woods – maple, oak, cherry, and apple (two hardwoods and two fruit woods) grow in abundance in this area. We even mill our own wood chips! This smoking blend gives a well-balanced, delicate and unique taste for our fish.
Ducktrap sources only premium grade raw material. That’s where our standard begins. Our raw material is the major expense in the cost of goods of our product, so it is very important that the fish is premium grade. We also proudly achieved SQF (Safe Quality Food) Level 3 certification, which is the highest level for seafood processors. This international standard gives customers assurances that strict standards in food safety and consistent product quality are in place and followed every day at Ducktrap.
The other aspect that sets us apart is the variety of species, trim styles and seasonings to accommodate different consumers, palates and parts of the market to offer a great variety. Salmon is about 70-80% of business, but we also smoke trout, mackerel and shellfish, as well as offer pates, herring and smoked seafood sauces. Within our salmon offerings, we cold smoke and hot smoke, and there is a tighter, premium trim without veins and brown flesh, along with a value trim which keeps the fillet intact. We have Gravlax, pepper crusted, frozen smoked, fresh smoked – lots of options.
Ducktrap is also part of Marine Harvest, the largest aquaculture company in world. As such, we are able to purchase through Marine Harvest, which has the highest standards for raw materials and gives us great access to a quality supply chain.
What would you say is your biggest success?
That’s a hard question and I’ll give you a multi-faceted answer. On one hand, we always feel like our biggest success is when we receive an email or call from a satisfied customer complimenting a particular Ducktrap product or sharing a wonderful experience they had with one of our products. We are all about premium quality and when that feedback comes back from a customer, large or small, we feel like that is always among our biggest success stories.
Awarding several employees with 25 year recognition is also a big success for us as an organization. It shows that we are doing something right to keep experienced people at our company and growing with us.
Ducktrap has also experienced six years of consecutive growth that is both our greatest challenge and biggest success at same time. Growing 10-20% each year since 2009 is quite an undertaking but we are very proud that the market has responded to our product so well.
What has been your greatest challenge, in addition to managing your growth?
Our greatest challenge is finding more qualified and talented people to join Ducktrap. Anticipating the price of salmon, which goes up and down and is quite volatile in world markets, is also a significant challenge. The price of salmon affects our final product pricing quite a bit because such a big portion of our production costs is raw material. We always want to make product as affordable as they can be for many people, but sometimes the price depends on the market for salmon. We source fish from around the world – Chile, Iceland, Scotland, Norway, Argentina, the US, etc. – and choosing premium raw material from around the world is quite a challenge.
What prompted you to pursue kosher certification?
We were previously certified by another kosher certifying agency, but based on both customer input and market realities, we saw a need to have a kosher certification that appealed to the broadest range of consumers and shared our focus on providing the highest quality and level of supervision. In short, we needed a certifying agency with a premiere well recognized symbol, so we chose the OK.
OK Kosher’s certification is a distinctive aspect that sets Ducktrap apart from other smoked fish companies. The OK helped us make the necessary improvements and supports our focus on premium quality as an internationally recognized kosher symbol with high standards and supports our commitment to premium quality smoked seafood products.
Describe your relationship with OK Kosher.
Dustin Batley, our Plant Manager, and one of the main liaisons between Ducktrap and the OK, shares “The OK has been an excellent organization to work with. They have been attentive to our needs as a production facility, while maintaining their high standard for kosher certification. The OK staff at all levels has been supportive, helpful, and informative both during the initial process of koshering, as well as with their follow up visits and attention after our certification. It is a good partnership.”
Where is your product available for purchase?
Ducktrap products can be purchased in premium supermarkets across the country. Our products are usually found in a refrigerated cooler adjacent to the fresh seafood counter or section.
A Few Words from Rabbi Elisha Rubin, OK Rabbinic Coordinator for Ducktrap
Providing kosher certification to a fish manufacturing facility provides all sorts of unique technical challenges. Ducktrap stands out for their efficiency, energy and ingenuity in getting the challenges resolved satisfactorily and quickly. Their commitment to doing things “without compromise” is a true fit with OK certification and we are proud to work together to achieve our shared aim of providing consumers with the highest in kosher quality.
Due to the particularly kosher sensitive nature of the products manufactured at Ducktrap, the OK and Ducktrap had to implement some complex systems to ensure kosher products and non-kosher products had no chance of mixing.
Ducktrap re-engineered their screens and trolleys so that kosher and non-kosher screens and trolleys would not be compatible. This means that kosher screens and trolleys could not fit into a non-kosher smoker and vice versa.
Ducktrap and the OK worked together to redesign the entire floor plan of the facility to ensure that unpacked kosher and non-kosher products never cross paths.
They underwent an intense kashering process. Even the screens, although they had never been used for non-kosher fish, were kashered before certification was given. We took this extra precaution because we didn’t have complete documentation for each prior use of the screens.
Ducktrap installed double heating elements controlled by the mashgiach in each of the kilns that do hot smoking. They have battery and generator back-ups, even though the hot smoked fish is generally considered edible before the cooking process.
Despite the challenge that lay before them, Ducktrap remained focused on the goal of achieving the highest standard of kosher supervision and worked to implement all of the OK recommendations and safeguards.
To read more about Ducktrap River’s history and smoking process, and for a detailed guide on where to purchase, please visit www.ducktrap.com.