Institutional Sales

Institutional sales entail fishermen selling their catch -- typically in bulk -- to food service providers at sites such as businesses, universities, schools, hospitals, and government agencies. Institutions, in turn, prepare and sell or serve it to staff, students, patients, visitors and other consumers. With this type of marketing arrangement, fishermen are not engaged directly with the consumer, but rather with the buyer for the institution. The fishermen typically must deliver the product and may need to do some cutting (portioning) and packaging beforehand, requiring compliance with HACCP regulations. They also may need to become an approved seafood supplier, which will require HACCP training. Among institutional buyers, particularly those of high-tech companies, there is growing interest in purchasing local products, creating a market opportunity for commercial fishermen.

To evaluate whether this type of alternative market is an option for you, explore the benefits and challenges (in addition to those on the Considerations page), key questions, tips and resources in the boxes below.

Institutional Sales

Benefits and Challenges

  • Steady year-round demand 
  • Outlet for medium- and high-volume sales of quality items within your community and possibly more widely
  • Opportunities to partner with institutional providers to distribute educational information about local fisheries
  • May be able to develop a complementary market (e.g., CSF, eMarket) for institution employees
  • Initial connection with the institutional buyer may be difficult as many institutions require the use of state-contracted vendors or regional distributors
  • Bulk sales may not yield as high a price per pound as small quantity sales typical of other alternative markets
  • Payment may not occur at time of delivery, as institutions often pay via purchase orders 30-days or more after delivery
  • ​Processing (e.g., portions, filets, steaks) likely needed to meet institution demand, requiring additional resources (financial, human, physical) and/or arrangements with a processor or seafood market​
    • HACCP training, certification and maintenance required to process seafood sold through this market type
Institutional Sales

Key Questions

Here are some questions to ask yourself and others about the operations of and personal considerations for this market type. Contact proper authorities to obtain up-to-date information and specific requirements for your business.

  • Can the institution purchase seafood from you as an individual, or do you need to be a certified vendor with the institution?
  • Are you required to carry additional liability insurance and/or third party food safety certifications?
  • How does the institution want the product packaged and delivered? 
    • How will you do this and what additional permits are required?
    • How will you address seafood safety? What kind of control measures, monitoring procedures and records are needed to document the use of safe handling practices?
    • Do you have processing, storage and distribution methods that will maintain the high quality of your product until it reaches the customer?
  • How much volume is needed to meet the institutions weekly/monthly needs?
    • Can you consistently meet that need?
  • Will your fishing schedule fit with the frequency and time of day the institution needs your product? 
Institutional Sales


Consult with resource management, public health and business authorities before selling your seafood. In some states, requirements for selling to the public are different from those for selling to retailers, chefs and other food service providers (see Permits and More).


  • Identify and set up a meeting with the food buyer for the institution. Provide samples and information about your product, and ask what they are looking for in terms of volume, processing, packaging and timing.
  • Prepare a list of products you will have during the year, along with prices and seasonality. Highlight the high quality of your product and service.
  • Consider providing products that are less familiar but often available. 


  • Consider starting small. For example, suggest that you provide product for a meal of the week that pairs your seafood and local farmed products. This is a good way to get them interested in and educated about the product while keeping costs down.
  • Create and maintain a strong relationship with the institution’s food buyer. The more they interact with and learn from you, the more likely you will develop a long-lasting, loyal partnership.
    • Provide information on safe storage and handling of product, recipes, the catch, yourself and your boat, and related stories.
    • Consider providing free samples, especially for less familiar products.
Institutional Sales


Does Your Small Business Qualify for Government Contracts?
US Small Business Administration (SBA).
Tips for Selling to Institutional Markets.
ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

West Coast State-Specific

Doing Business With the State (California).
California Department of General Administration, General Services Procurement Division.
Doing Business With the State (Oregon).
Oregon Department of Administrative Services, Procurement Information Network.
Doing Business With the State (Washington).
Washington State Department of Enterprise Services.

Additional permits and other documentation usually are needed to establish an alternative market. Be sure to consult with resource management, public health and business authorities before selling your seafood.

Information provided on this page was synthesized from interviews with fishermen and buyers, and from the Fishermen’s Direct Marketing Manual, the Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook, ATTRA publications, and other resources (see About this Website and Resources).