Monday, February 29, 2016
For Fishing Families, Adapting is the Name of the Game
by Kerry Marhefka
This is one in a series of stories from some of the people attending Slow Fish 2016.
My name is Kerry Marhefka. Along with my husband Mark we own Abundant Seafood in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina just a few miles north of Charleston.
Mark is a second generation commercial fisherman who has fished in the South Atlantic snapper & grouper fishery since 1979. For many years we operated our business in the traditional manner of fishing for days at a time, loading up as much catch as possible, coming in and selling the whole load to one fish house, just to turn back around and do it all again.
In the early 2000s my husband and I were both very involved with fisheries management. He was an Advisory Panel member for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and I was one of their fishery biologists. Because we were paying attention we knew what was coming and that there was going to be less fish to catch due to management.
We also knew we couldn't afford to make less money (to make things even more fun we decided that my working at the Council wasn't working for our growing family nor the peace in our household so I left that nice secure, benefit-having government job).
Our solution was to leave the fish house, cut out the middle man and sell our catch directly to local chefs in Charleston. I am happy to say that not only was that successful but we also were able to start a community supported fishery in 2010, getting fresh local fish into the hands of more than 300 Charleston area families twice a month.
As successful as we have been we still feel a lot of uncertainty for the future of our livelihood and those fishermen and women who may come after us. Much like everywhere else along the coast property prices and development along the water front has skyrocketed. Currently the five or so boats that operate out of the same dock we use are all renting slips and working dock space on a month to month basis with no lease. The owner is a real estate developer.
The few commercial fishermen left worry about the day they will lose their dock space which is ironic considering that Charleston's food scene is at such a high point and those talented chefs are using more fresh local seafood than I can ever remember.
Of course we still worry about the health of the stocks we fish and how management may affect our business (locally we are concerned about the push for the Catch Share management approach) but for some reason we feel like if we stay involved in the fishery management process that we can adapt to any changes in regulations.
When we attend Slow Fish in March we look forward to meeting other like-minded people and hopefully talking to people who have been faced with similar issues and who might offer solutions that have worked. We also hope we can be helpful to others by sharing our experience of direct marketing to chefs and running a community supported fishery.
REGISTER for Slow Fish 2016.
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SUPPORT our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.
HOST a Fisher-Chef Alliance dinner.