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.