|In North Carolina, fishermen are joining the local food community.|
The rally drew close to 300 protestors, and fishermen, food activists and chefs rode together on buses to Raleigh.
A recreational fishing group had proposed a bill that would designate those three varieties of fish as gamefish, thereby banning the commercial harvest.
Recreational fishermen say that the bill would be an economic boon to the state - with more anglers coming to NC to fish - and that the impact on commercial harvesters would be negligible. But a coalition of chefs, consumers, and farming advocates disagreed - and joined with the fishermen to protest the bill in person and via an online petition.
Groups like Chefs Collaborative and the Carolina FarmStewardship Association sent action alerts warning their members that the bill would take NC seafood off the dinner table. And the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation recognized commercial fishermen as important food producers.
The support from the local food community was all the more remarkable considering that seafood was barely on the radar screen of local food advocates during a series of statewide “farm to fork” policy discussions that took place in 2008.
A lot of work has taken place since fishermen and their friends witnessed that void.
Groups like NC Catch and its local catch affiliates are working hard to educate consumers about seafood seasonality and the economic, ecologic, and cultural benefits of buying local seafood. “Bringing Seafood into the Local Food Movement” was the theme of their annual summit and Uli Bennewitz, a pioneer in the movement in North Carolina, was the keynote speaker.
Coastal communities are hosting more local seafood events, like the Seafood Throwdown at Day at the Docks in Hatteras in September that NAMA graciously helped stage.
Most of our seafood still heads north to out-of-state markets, but more is moving west to supply in-state demand. Community-supported fisheries are delivering seafood to drop-off locations in places like Raleigh and Durham. More North Carolina is available at inland farmers’ markets, and entrepreneurs are turning inland chefs onto species, like sheepshead and cobia, that are new to them.
We have been told that the gamefish bill will not be run this session, but proponents are continuing to pressure legislators to bring it to a vote this summer. In any event, it’s likely to be back for consideration next year, so fishermen aren’t resting easy.
Still, it is reassuring that North Carolina seafood is recognized as an important component in the local food economy of a state better known for its sweet potato and turkey production.
Susan West is a journalist and lives on Hatteras Island, NC with her husband Rob who is a commercial fisherman. West serves on the board of NC Catch.