Reinventing the Devil Fish in Mexico

About Solution

The invasive devil fish, first captured in Michoacán in 1995, has since decimated Mexican freshwater fisheries and left thousands of fishermen without work.  It currently accounts for 70-80% of freshwater capture and has had a particularly deleterious effect in Tabasco where an estimated 13,000 families depend on freshwater fishing as their primary economic activity.


Hundreds or even thousands of tons of devil fish are needlessly thrown away each day in Mexico. This hated, destructive species has a multi-faceted impact on the food system in Mexico and has the potential to improve the seafood supply chain and reduce red meat consumption in the U.S.


First, the devil fish outcompetes and eats the eggs of native species, causing a significant decline in the population of fish like mojarra, pejelagarto and snook that have traditionally sustained these fishing communities in Tabasco and throughout the region. Because of the devil fish, many fishermen have been forced to look elsewhere for employment and have seen their earnings decline dramatically.


The concept of our work is simple - train local fishermen to process and package the fillet, in turn, providing a valuable new source of employment while mitigating environmental damage caused by the devil fish.  We then sell packaged fillet and process fillet further into El Diablito fish jerky. Because of the armored catfish’s high iron and hemoglobin content, El Diablito jerky has a texture and flavor profile akin to beef jerky. By working with fishermen to capture and process the devil fish, we’re helping restore natural fisheries while boosting incomes by an average of 25%.


Within the U.S., we’ll distribute fillet to restaurants and corporate kitchens looking to reduce their ecological footprint and improve their seafood sourcing. Because of its unique texture, the devil fish is a great substitute for red meat in foods like meatballs and burgers. However, our real market is jerky and other meat snacks. This industry is currently valued at $3 billion annually and because our jerky tastes and feels like beef, we want to take on beef jerky, helping drastically reduce water usage while providing a healthier, more nutritious substitute.


Although beef jerky continues to reign supreme, alternative proteins like salmon, turkey and pork are on the rise in the U.S. as consumers shift to healthier, more sustainable options.  Non-meat jerkies like New Primal’s vegan jerky and Jewels of the Forest’s mushroom jerky have also been launched in response to evolving consumer demand. Consumers have reduced red meat consumption in an effort to reduce their environmental footprint.  The importance placed on positive social and environmental impact has serious implications for businesses – a 2015 Nielsen study, for example, found that 66% of global respondents are willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies with a positive impact, up from 55% in 2014.


The fish jerky segment primarily consists of salmon with a couple artisanal players manufacturing jerky from ahi tuna and marlin.  Though wild-caught salmon, as marketed by companies like EPIC is fairly sustainable, ahi tuna and marlin are both considered borderline threatened from decades of overfishing.  Moreover, the capture of both species by longlining and purse seining leads to significant capture of bycatch. El Diablito is made from an invasive fish without any of the sustainability concerns associated with other jerkies – in fact, El Diablito helps drive demand and encourages the removal of the devil fish from Mexican waters, helping to restore the natural ecosystem. It could be argued that consumption is a net positive in terms of sustainability.


By tapping into the American meat snack market, we are turning a "trash fish" that has decimated the Mexican freshwater fishing industry into a viable source of employment for thousands of rural fishermen. We're also strongly involved in the local communities and donate fish and jerky to migrant shelters throughout Mexico, providing an important source of protein and diet diversification to vulnerable populations.


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