The Fass family, operators of the global distribution company Maritime Products International (MPI), has been in the seafood business in Hampton Roads for more than 130 years.
It all began with Isaac Fass, who, in 1887, started a business selling fresh-caught seafood in Portsmouth. Over half a century later, Isaac’s grandsons, Arthur and Luie, founded Fass Brothers, expanding to include a fleet of fishing boats, a processing plant and a chain of restaurants.
In the 1980s, almost 100 years after Isaac Fass began his seafood enterprise, Arthur split from the company he shared with his brother to begin a new endeavor, Maritime Products International (MPI). Unlike its predecessors, MPI doesn’t focus exclusively on local catch. In fact, locally harvested seafood accounts for a very small portion of the business. The company, instead, focuses its efforts on distributing seafood from all over the globe.
Arthur Fass is still CEO of MPI, with his son Matthew as the company president. “Matt came in 20-25 years ago, when this business was very small, and he has increased it several times over,” says Arthur. About his own continued role in the business he adds, “I’ve just passed 88 and I work five days a week. I still talk to a few customers. I sell a little bit of fish, but Matt does most of the business. I just keep my eyes on everything.”
Why favor frozen, imported seafood over fresh, local catch? According to Matt, that decision was made for very practical reasons.
“Seafood truly is a naturally global item,” he says. “Of the seafood consumed in the United States, 85 percent is imported.” Going further, he adds, “We love local, fresh product but simply put — fresh, local catch isn’t consistently available in much of the U.S. Even where it is available, it cannot be produced in sufficient volume to satisfy demand while continuing to ensure we are managing species in a sustainable manner.”
An additional, and major, benefit of sourcing frozen seafood globally is access to variety. Matt explains, “There are a lot of things you can’t get if you don’t do it this way. We are bringing a new basket of goods to consumers.”
He does believe there is some undue stigma associated with some places where seafood is produced. And he is truly a great source for information on the subject. For MPI, he travels to all corners of the globe in efforts to find partnerships and build relationships within his supply chain.
When it comes to preconceived notions about frozen seafood sourced from far-away places, Matt says, “It is great for all of us to try and become more educated in this area as food can be an emotional subject — what we put into our bodies, what we feed our children — and we tend to have a lot of preconceived notions about food supply. Taking the time to learn more fact-based background is always a positive thing.”
Matt Fass seems right at home at the helm of the family business, but he says that his participation wasn’t planned from birth. He studied and attained degrees from both the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia and the UVA School of Law. With a world of possibilities open to him, in the mid-1990s Matt took some time to check out the operations at MPI, and he never left. “For better or worse,” he says, “seafood is in the blood.”
When he’s not working in the family trade, Matt loves spending time with his wife and children. “I am blessed with a very active 14-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son — so many of my hobbies revolve around their busy interests,” he says. Conveniently for Matt, his children’s interests line up with his own in some ways. “We do like to travel as a family,” he says, “particularly focused on being outdoors in different environments, as well as learning history from all over the world.”
TO THE POINT:
Maritime Products International
Address: 11825 Rock Landing Dr.,
Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Matthew Fass, president