New Bern, NC – INTRO - There's a disparity between what we think we're eating when we sit down for a seafood dinner and what we actually eat. A local non-profit group seeks to lessen that disparity in order to help the local fishing industry. George Olsen has more.
If you travel to a Carteret County beach, one of the highlights might be the seafood dinner awaiting you at the end of the day. You're sitting in a Morehead City or Beaufort waterfront restaurant and you think surely the seafood you're eating came from the waters right outside the window. But that isn't always the case. About 80% of the seafood we eat in the U-S is imported which isn't necessarily the way we actually want it.
"84% of people expected seafood purchased at the coast to be locally caught, 90% expected seafood at local restaurants to be locally harvested, and 92% if given a choice would purchase local seafood."
Pam Davis Morris, the president of the non-profit Carteret Catch, an organization that seeks to keep the fishing industry in Carteret County viable. She's quoting from a 2005 survey the group took about the expectations of seafood purchasers. More surveys have been taken since, all with similar numbers.
"Often they don't know they're not eating local seafood. We've found restaurants who were serving local seafood were not gaining any added benefit from this although they were trying to serve top quality seafood and serve it, make it available to the public, they were not being recognized for that, and that was an aspect of it, and we were experiencing the impacts of imported seafood to our local fishermen, and people didn't realize how much imported stuff they were eating, expecting to be eating local, and we found out that people really didn't know, if they wanted to eat local, where to go to get it."
That's why Carteret Catch was formally organized in 2006 allow the customer to get what they overwhelmingly prefer and thereby increasing the likelihood the commercial fishing industry in the area can be a viable one. It's essentially a two step process step one, make sure the consumer knows where they can go to find fresh local seafood.
"Well, all of our members, in particular our restaurant members have to carry at least one local seafood which would be specifically noted as Carteret Catch on their menu all the time, all year round, and in exchange for their membership we give them a flag and something to put on their door so the public knows this is a Carteret Catch member."
That's also true for retailers certified as Carteret Catch members. Secondly, educate the public in what fish would be fresh in season and why in the name of the NEXT fishing season some fish could be locally freshly harvested but won't be at certain times.
"If you're serving tuna which is a popular seafood in these parts, you can't have local tuna all the time because of the seasons and also sustainability. We try to educate people about sustainability because there are a lot of laws that govern the harvest of seafood. Sometimes you will have seafood there and they may be here in coastal NC and available to harvest if you could but for sustainability purposes the season is very regulated on most species."
A lot of the education process takes place through their carteretcatch.com website which tells you where you can find fresh local seafood as well as what's in season at any given time. Morris can't quote numbers to the impact of Carteret Catch but says she's getting positive feedback from members as to its effect on their business. And if imitation is a sincere form of flattery, then Carteret Catch must be doing something right as other people looking to improve their local seafood industry have come calling.
"There's actually one in Queensland, Australia and one being launched in Brunswick County Brunswick Catch. Ocracoke is launching one called Ocracoke Fresh. Dare County is on the verge they've actually begun the process and theirs we believe will be called Dare Catch although they haven't nailed that down yet."
Pam Davis Morris is the president of the non-profit organization Carteret Catch. I'm George Olsen.