One of the topics during the recent Cucalorus Connect conference was the "Acceleration of the North Carolina Seafood Economy."
The session included a panel led by David “Clammerhead” Cessna of Sandbar Oyster Company; Barbara Garrity-Blake, co-author of Living at the Water’s Edge and instructor in marine fisheries policy at the Duke University Marine Laboratory; and Ryan Speckman, co-founder of Locals Seafood.
Panelists identified several key problems within the U.S. fishing industry, including the fact that 90 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. With a lack of domestic processing facilities, the U.S. is bringing in seafood from across the world, in many cases from countries with scant regulations regarding the handling of seafood. This leads to a wide scope of issues ranging from mislabeling to quality control, panelists said.
“Consumer education is key to changing our seafood economy,” said Speckman, of Locals Seafood, a Raleigh-based wholesaler and processing facility dedicated to the distribution of North Carolina seafood.
Speckman urges consumers to begin by buying seafood domestically, believing that this is the first step in solving many of the ethical and environmental issues surrounding the industry. He feels strongly that both chefs and consumers must be educated on how to prepare underutilized fish that are abundant in our local waters.
But despite the fact that fish such as sheepshead, dogfish and black drum are abundant in our waters, consumers may rarely see them at the market or on menus. This is in part the result of the lack of processing facilities in the Southeast region. And chefs, many of whom can break down the fish themselves, are hesitant to put them on their menus because of the lack of customer familiarity.
“The rest of the world eats their fish whole,” Speckman said. “But not here in the U.S. Many of these fish get exported simply because there aren’t enough facilities here to break them down.”
Speckman and Garrity-Blake said that by exporting the fish caught domestically, in many cases to be used as bait fish or pet food, people are missing out on an opportunity to support the local economy and eat healthier, fresher fish.
“If we depend on imports, we are also not invested in taking care of our local waters,” Garrity-Blake said. “Supporting the local fishing industry also means supporting the local environment.”
Diane Durance, director of the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is working to help connect North Carolina entrepreneurs in the field of sustainable seafood technologies with investors from around the world through the global program Fish 2.0. The goal of Fish 2.0 is to create the business growth needed to drive social and environmental change in the seafood supply chain.
“We want to leverage our unique regional strengths and university expertise to develop entrepreneurial solutions to global challenges,” Durance said. “The marine environment and sustainable fisheries is a key area of focus for us. Fish 2.0 is the only program operating on a global scale to connect businesses and investors in the sustainable seafood sector. Our four North Carolina finalists [in a recent competition] showcased our region’s strengths and innovations in this sector, and I expect to see continued investor interest as we follow up with the contacts we made at the Fish 2.0 Investor Forum last week.”
More information on Fish 2.0 is available online
Have a tip for Restaurant Roundup? Email [email protected].