Women in Seafood: Barbara Blakistone

Dr. Barbara Blakistone is the Senior Director of Scientific Affairs for the National Fisheries Institute. Dr. Blakistone received her Ph.D. in food science from North Carolina State University at Raleigh and spent 15 years in food packaging working for International Paper and Mead Packaging. She worked for the National Food Processors Association (now Grocery Manufacturers Association) in Washington, D.C. to hone her trade association skills. After NFPA, Dr. Blakistone worked for Graham Packaging in York, PA for several years before returning to Washington in 2005 to work for National Fisheries. In January 2016, she joined IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group in Seattle, WA as Vice President, Aquatic Food Products. Dr. Blakistone is a frequent speaker and organizer of seminars for Seafood Expo North America, the Institute of Food Technologists, Pacific Fisheries Technologists, and the International Association for Food Protection where she has chaired the Seafood Quality & Safety Professional Development Group.
Sea Delight: Sustainable seafood is an industry for the future. Maintaining a healthy ocean with responsibly sourced fish is simply good business. What attracted you to the seafood business in the first place?

Barbara Blakistone: I had a colleague with University of California-Sea Grant that recommended me for my position at National Fisheries.

SD: The seafood industry is a significant contributor to the world’s growing need for healthy sustainable food. Why is sustainability important to you?

BB: Planning for the future of food and feeding the planet is the moral responsibility of not only the seafood industry but all of us.

SD: What are some of the projects you are currently working on that will enhance the future of the seafood industry?

BB: I’ve always had a research interest in food-packaging interaction and extending shelf life. Technical projects I’ve worked on at the NFI often address improving quality of seafood which impacts time a product can be offered to consumers. Also, I’ve worked with the NFI team on enhancing health through omega-3s. I liaise with the Seafood Industry Research Fund to seek out universities that can conduct projects that ultimately benefit the industry. Those projects usually play out to enhance quality and therefore extension of shelf life.

SD: The seafood industry is one of the most complex global systems in the world because it’s about feeding people. What has been your biggest challenge working in the industry in general and also addressing sustainable seafood?

BB: Once the industry totally embraces traceability and interoperability throughout the supply chain, tracking seafood from harvest to point of sale will greatly enhance sustainability because quality is improved. And again, better quality means preservation of seafood. Traceability is a great tool to define where the limiting points are in the supply chain.

SD: The best leaders are lifelong learners. What have you learned most recently that has made an impact on your career?

BB: I thoroughly enjoy navigating the technical and regulatory waters when NFI members have an import, labeling, or other issue. Recognizing that skill defines what I want as part of my job responsibilities.

SD: What advice would you give other women interested in a career in the seafood industry?

BB: Seafood science and technology is a wide open field in need of women (and men too for that matter). Opportunities are there and are not limited by gender. I’ve found seafood to offer a “family-like” atmosphere which welcomes all. I’ve met many women in leadership positions.